herald

Monday 11 December 2017

Euro draw is now a lottery

IRELAND'S fixture list for the 2012 European Championship qualifiers will now become a lottery after the competing nations failed to agree on dates at a meeting in Moscow this morning.

Officials from the football associations of Ireland, Russia, Slovakia, Armenia, Macedonia and Andorra all attended a meeting at 6am Irish time in the Russian capital but within hours, it was clear that no agreement would be reached. It's believed that officials from the Armenian FA vetoed a list of dates which had been agreed by the three top seeds of Russia, Slovakia and Ireland.

Instead of the competing nations agreeing on a fixture list that suits them, UEFA will now decide the dates for the qualifiers with an open draw, which will be made in Israel on Thursday week.

That could see Ireland forced to accept tough away games on dates that don't suit and also could rule out Ireland's dream scenario of playing the away games in Russia and Armenia as part of the same double header.

“It's disappointing, for everyone to come all the way to Moscow and not be able to reach agreement,” FAI Chief Executive John Delaney told the Herald. “I spoke to Giovanni Trapattoni after we came out of the meeting, as he was eager to find out what had been agreed.

Giovanni was disappointed that no agreement was reached, but he was reasonable enough about it, he just said ‘Let's see what UEFA come up with now'.

“He also said that no matter what list of dates you come up with, you still have to play everybody home and away.

What might look like a great fixture on paper, in terms of the timing and the venue, may not look so good down the road if you have players missing through injury or suspension, so he's not too worried about it.”

Most of the countries in Ireland’s group left the horse-trading to their FA officials, though the manager of Macedonia did travel to Moscow for the meeting while Trapattoni and the other bosses stayed away.

It’s thought that the top three teams in the group (Russia, Slovakia and Ireland) had all agreed on a list of dates for their home and away games against each other. The suggested fixture list would have seen Ireland, unusually, play the first three games at home and Slovakia were also willing to travel to Dublin in November, a date which had been set aside for a friendly game.

But what has been described as a lack of experience from one of the smaller nations - said to be the Armenians - caused them to object. As any country has the right to veto the overall agreement, the proposed deal between the Russians, the Irish and the Slovaks went into the bin.

So it’s off to Tel Aviv next week, where UEFA blazers will make a decision on where and when Ireland play.

“It's unusual for this to happen as countries are willing to compromise,” Delaney added. “Of course it does happen, it happened earlier this week with the group involving England and Wales, the countries in that group couldn't come to an agreement so they have to go to UEFA as well and let them decide the dates.

“The way it works now is that the countries will be put into a draw, assigned a letter, team A will be drawn home or away against team B on a certain date and they have to play on that date.

“It’s surprising that it was one of the lower seeds in the group who objected, normally it’s the higher seeds who are hardest to please.”

In previous campaigns, Ireland were able to get some of the fixtures they wanted, like playing away to Slovakia and the Czech Republic in the same week in a double header for the Euro 2008 campaign. And in Trapattoni’s first qualifying campaign, Ireland were also due to play Georgia and Montenegro away in a double header. Now, the balls drawn out of a drum at a UEFA meeting next week will decide our fate.

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