Thursday 21 February 2019

Seeds seeking Irish in world cup play-offs

Italy and Denmark confident if faced with O'Neill side. FIFA to take rugby clash into account for Dublin leg.

Shane Duffy insists his Ireland team-mates are a match for any team ahead of today’s World Cup qualifying play-off draw. Pic: Sportsfile
Shane Duffy insists his Ireland team-mates are a match for any team ahead of today’s World Cup qualifying play-off draw. Pic: Sportsfile

Ireland was making headlines across parts of Europe yesterday.

But it was the damage done to this island by Hurricane Ophelia, and not the potential damage which the national team of the Republic of Ireland could do to the outfits of Italy, Croatia or Denmark which was making waves.

As workers, students and the general public of Ireland tuck into their sandwiches in canteens and cafés today, our opponents for the World Cup draw will be known. And despite our perceived status as "the team they all hate to play", our play-off opponents are not quaking in their boots at the prospect of a trip to Dublin.

Italy are one of the sides which Martin O'Neill's team could face, but if readers of the La Stampa newspaper are anything to go by, Ireland are the Grease team: You're the one that I want.

A readers' poll asked fans of the Azzurri which team they did not want to face in today's draw. Almost half (42%) said Sweden, 24% opted for Greece, 18% for Northern Ireland with only 16% saying that the Republic were the side they most feared.

Over in Denmark, one expert from national broadcaster DR, their answer to the late Jimmy Magee, came up with a formula to analyse the Danes' opponents. He reckoned that drawing the Republic gave "62 percent chance of Danish victory", ahead of Northern Ireland (60%), Greece (55%) and Sweden (52%).

Just as Ireland smiled when given kind draws against Estonia and Bosnia for recent play-offs, expect smirks from the bosses of Italy, Denmark or Croatia if they are paired with Ireland today, leaving the challenge, then, for O'Neill and his team to prove them wrong.

The managers, and the blazers, from the eight European nations in the draw assembled in Zurich last night ahead of today's draw (1pm), O'Neill's trip to the Swiss city undisturbed by Hurricane Ophelia as he flew via London yesterday.

There will be some horse-trading in terms of fixtures after the draw in terms of stadium availability.

If Ireland are drawn to play at home for the first leg, there is an immediate problem as the Irish rugby team are due to play New Zealand in the Aviva Stadium on Saturday November 11th.

However the FAI have already made FIFA aware of the clash so the rugby game will be taken into account after the draw is made, so there is no chance of Ireland being forced to play at home on the 10th/11th and move the game to, say, Croke Park.

The nations have three days to confirm the venues for their home games. And that leaves Irish fans hoping to travel for the away leg hanging on before they can can book flights.

Italy will play in either Milan or Palermo, Denmark are certain to play their home game in Copenhagen, while the Croatian FA confirmed yesterday that, following a number of problems in sourcing a venue for the national team of late due to poor-quality pitches, they will play at home in Zagreb's Maksimir Stadium.

Croatia, who only made sure of a play-off place with a win away to Ukraine in their final group game, have already said they don't mind who they get in the draw - apart from the Greeks. "I don't want Greece for one reason: complications with the fans. We would like to talk about football, not about other issues," says Davor Suker, the former Croatian international who is now head of their FA.

There is a bitter history between Greek and Croatian fans, riots at a Euro 2012 qualifier in Greece and serious violence at a Dinamo Zagreb-PAOK Europa League tie in 2011.

Ireland have not played in Zagreb since 1999 as the four meetings since then have been in Dublin (three friendlies) or a neutral venue (Poland for Euro 2012).

Croatia have already announced their ticket prices for their home leg of the play-off, home fans aiming for the cheap seats (€8) with the more expensive ones (€27) likely to be set aside for away supporters. Getting to Zagreb is one challenge for the fans. Proving wrong those teams who want Ireland in the draw? That's where Martin O'Neill (left) earns his corn.

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