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Euro 2012 Draw Gives Ireland Hope of Qualifying

Ireland have been placed in Group B along with Russia, Slovakia, FYR Macedonia, Armenia and Andorra.

This draw provides a massive chance, not only of qualifying in the top two, but topping the group.

The 2012 draw is significant in many ways. The top seeds in our group are Russia who were one of the teams most Irish pundits were desperate to avoid in the World Cup playoffs.

At the time they were managed by Guus Hiddink, a manager who had previously coached underdogs South Korea and Australia to respectful finishes in successive World Cup tournaments.

Hiddink failed to guide Russia to the World Cup this time round after they were beaten by minnows Slovenia in the playoffs.

Slovenia’s population is roughly half the size of Ireland’s, and Russia without Hiddink presents a huge opportunity for Ireland to reach the top spot.

The last time the Republic of Ireland qualified for the European Championships, a win was worth two points and only eight teams qualified for the final tournament.

Euro 88 was the also the first time Ireland qualified for the European Championships, and as we finished above England and beat them 1-0, it certainly didn’t look like it would be our last.

In the past, different factors have coincided to scupper the Boys in Green’s chances to reach the final stages of the European tournament.

During the qualifiers for Portugal 2004, a World Cup hangover saw Ireland lose their first two games to their direct rivals, Russia and Switzerland, for the two qualifying spots up for grabs, effectively ending the campaign before it got underway.

The problem for 2004? Mick McCarthy’s reign as Ireland manager had stagnated and come to an end.

For the 2008 Euro Championship qualifiers, a combination of a difficult group, Germany and Czech Republic, and an inexperienced manager was Ireland’s downfall.

The surprise appointment of Steve Staunton and Bobby Robson, as Manager and ‘International Consultant’ respectively had disaster written all over it.

Lacklustre performances and away defeats to both Germany and the Czech Republic saw Ireland fail to qualify for Europe yet again.

These qualifiers also saw one of Irish football’s most embarrassing and lowest moments in the recent memory when a last gasp injury time winner was needed to beat San Marino 2-1 away from home.

A team that had been beaten 13-0 at home to Germany had very nearly recorded their greatest ever success, their only ever win has been at home to Lichtenstein, 1-0.

This shocking display by Ireland was only a few months after losing 5-2 to Cyprus away. We were never going to qualify with performances like the ones against Cyprus and San Marino, to name a few.

It seems at last, Ireland have the right combination of manager and the luck of the draw.

Under Giovanni Trapattoni, Ireland have the kind of manager with the pedigree of qualifying for big tournaments.

Trapattoni has won everything there is to win at club level, managing Juventus to six league titles, a European Cup, and winning a league title at every club he has managed.

Ireland’s performance under Trapattoni against the likes of Italy and, most noticeably, France in the ill-fated playoff in Paris show that his team can perform at the highest level and compete with the world’s best.

The mediocre days of Steve Staunton and Brian Kerr are looking behind us as Giovanni Trapattoni’s team prepares to face Russia, Slovakia, Macedonia, Armenia and Andorra.

Despite the loss of their manager Guus Hiddink, Russia are still a team not to be taken lightly.

The attacking threat of Arsenal’s Andrei Arshavin is arguably the most dangerous in the group.

Russia still boasts high quality players, some plying their trade in the English Premier League: Yuri Zhirkov (Chelsea), Roman Pavlyuchenko (Tottenham Hotspurs) and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov (Everton).

Russia’s goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev is one of the most highly rated young keepers in Europe and has been linked with many big clubs, including Manchester United.

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Russia still pose a threat to Ireland but the threat has been significantly weakened by the departure of Hiddink, leaving Russia as one of the most beatable top seeds for Ireland to face, avoiding ties with Spain, Germany and the Netherlands.

Ireland’s luck has continued with the second seed Slovakia, avoiding the likes of the Czech Republic and, Hiddink’s new team, Turkey.

Slovakia are a decent team, one ahead of Ireland in the FIFA World Rankings (Slovakia are at 36) but beatable and Ireland have done so in the not too distant past.

Despite the calamitous reign of Staunton, he presided over Ireland as they beat Slovakia 1-0 at Croke Park and were unlucky to concede a last minute equaliser in Bratislava in a game that finished 2-2.

Macedonia have never qualified for a major international tournament.

Despite this, they have fire power in Goran Pandev, the Inter Milan striker, and have proved to be a thorn in the side for England when they drew 0-0 at home, a result that would contribute to England’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland.

Armenia and Andorra should provide Ireland with 6 points each if they are to have any chance of qualifying in pole position.

Armenia are ranked 102 by the FIFA World Rankings while Andorra are above only five teams, ranked 202, just ahead of San Marino.

Players such as Robbie Keane and Damien Duff will be 33 and 35 respectively by the time the next World Cup comes around so the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine in 2012 may be their last chance to make a meaningful contribution to an international tournament.

Two players who showed so much talent and promise in the World Cup in 2002 deserve to play at one of the highest stages of international football again. And under Trapattoni, with the draw Ireland have received, there’s never been a better opportunity to do so.


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