Saturday 25 January 2020

It's an away-day hell for the FAI

Route on the road to Euro slot comes at a huge cost

Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy, right, and Slovakia manager Pavel Hapal following the UEFA EURO 2020 Play-Off Draw at UEFA Headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland
Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy, right, and Slovakia manager Pavel Hapal following the UEFA EURO 2020 Play-Off Draw at UEFA Headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland

It was anything but the luck of the draw for the Republic of Ireland at UEFA HQ as the FAI are faced with extra financial burdens, at a cost of close to €2million, thanks to a second away game in the race for Euro 2020 qualification.

The chance of a home match against either Northern Ireland or Bosnia, as a reward for winning away to Slovakia, was denied to the Republic as their play-off final will be in either Belfast or Zenica.

With that away draw, the financial boon from a 49,000 sell-out game at Lansdowne Road was taken away from the FAI while away games in Slovakia and Bosnia in the space of five days also comes at a cost.

"It was a nightmare draw, it could hardly have been worse," said an FAI source. "The play-off wasn't budgeted for, and qualification is not budgeted for but even still losing out on a home game is a disaster."

UEFA classify the play-off matches on the same level as home qualifiers, so the host nation claims all of the gate receipts and subsidiary income. A sold-out qualifier in Dublin can net the FAI €1.5m and the cost of keeping the squad on the road for a week adds to the damage.

Mick McCarthy put on a brave face when he learned of the draw, claiming that the task of winning away from home twice in the space of five days was not beyond his side.

"We've been away. We drew in Georgia, we drew in Denmark so I'm not worried about going away," McCarthy said.

"But home advantage is always an advantage because you don't have to travel, you feel more comfortable.

"But I'm not worried about it. If I start worrying about it now, what is the point? We'll hopefully have two games to play and, if we win the first in Slovakia, we'll fancy our chances of going anywhere and getting a result."

McCarthy met his rival, Slovakia coach Pavel Hapal, at the draw and the Czech-born coach could not hide his relief at home advantage.

Less than 8,000 fans, not even half the stadium's capacity, paid in to see Slovakia's 2-0 win at home to Azerbaijan on Tuesday night, the Slovak side booed off at half-time, but Hapal hopes for an upturn in March, the Slovaks likely to move their 'home' from the city of Trnava to the capital, Bratislava.

"Being at home is always an advantage," Hapal said. "I believe the fans will come and allow us sell out the stadium, and do everything we can to move forward. We wanted to have the final at home as well but that's the draw."

McCarthy's bosses in the FAI were clearly hoping for a home draw for the final, to ease likely problems over logistics and the sheer cost of potentially having the squad and the large coaching staff on foreign soil for a week, should the Slovakia game end well for Ireland.

Officials from the FAI, IFA and the national associations with Slovakia and Bosnia will hold a four-way meeting next week, at a venue yet to be decided, where they will try and reach an agreement on issues related to travel and ticketing ahead of the play-off final.

If McCarthy's side beat Slovakia, and Northern Ireland win their play-off, the Republic's squad could return home immediately after the Thursday night fixture in Bratislava to prepare for a Tuesday date in Belfast.

The Republic's party would need to be in Belfast at least 24 hours before kick-off, as UEFA protocols demand, but the squad would have had two days of training at their usual base in Dublin.

But a game in Bosnia would almost certainly keep McCarthy's men on the road with travel to Bosnia from Slovakia and training in Bosnia.

Robert Prosinecki, the Croatian-born manager of Bosnia, has been given the advantage of two home games in the play-offs, should they beat Northern Ireland in the semi-final.

"It is very important to us that we will play in Bosnia and Herzegovina. That is our slight advantage in the play-offs, because of the atmosphere, the audience and because we play really well on our own pitch," he said, drawing confidence from wins over Northern Ireland in the Nations League.

"We hope we can go to the Euros and I believe we will get past Northern Ireland and reach the play-off finals, although that match will not be easy," Prosinecki added.

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