After last night’s games completed the group stages of qualifying for next summer’s European Championships in France, Ireland now know that they will face one from Sweden, Ukraine, Hungary and Bosnia-Herzegovina in the play-offs.
Martin O’Neill’s men would have needed various results to go their way on Tuesday night to become a seeded team for Sunday’s draw but instead they will now have to compete against one of four tricky opponents if they are to join neighbours Northern Ireland, Wales and England in the land of wine and berets next summer.
Turkey struck late to snatch a 1-0 win against the already qualified Iceland to qualify as the best third-placed team, while Croatia stuttered to a 1-0 in Malta to also qualify automatically. However there was to be no such luck for a disappointing Netherlands side that lost 3-2 at home to 10-man Czech Rep, meaning they do not even make the play-offs this time around.
The play-off draw takes place this Sunday, with both legs of to come next month. We have a brief look at Ireland’s potential opponents below:
Euro 2016 Play-offs
Republic of Ireland
Sweden: The men in blue and yellow finished 3rd behind an impressive Austria side and Russia, picking up only two points against the two in the process, going down 4-1 at home to Austria and 1-0 in Moscow. Of their ten games they won 5, drew 3 and lost 2. Whether they perform or not depends mainly on the mood of their main man Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The PSG man scored 8 of their fifteen goals in the group stages. Sweden faced the Irish in their unsuccessful qualifying campaign for the last World Cup, drawing 0-0 in Stockholm before coming away with a 2-1 win from Dublin.
Key Man: Ibrahimovic
FIFA World Ranking: 45th
Ukraine: A 1-0 loss at home to Spain in the final round of games meant Mikhail Ivanovich’s men had to settle for a play-off spot behind Spain and Slovakia. The men from Eastern Europe also suffered narrow 1-0 defeats in Spain and Bratislava, so they are not that far off the pace and would surely be the one the boys in green will be looking to avoid come Sunday’s draw. They are also the highest ranked team of the four seeded sides. Midfielder Andriy Yarmolenko is behind most things good when Ukraine turn on the style and with twenty goals to his name in fifty-two internationals it comes as no surprise that Jose Mourinho travelled to see him against the Spain the other night.
Key Man: Yarmolenko
FIFA World Ranking: 24th
Hungary: Hungary finished 3rd in what was perceived as one of the ‘weaker’ groups but try telling that to a Northern Ireland fan!! They clinched the play-off spot with consummate ease ahead of Finland, the Faroe Islands and a very, very disappointing Greek side but were nudged out of the 2nd automatic spot by Romania. To give the Hungarians credit at one stage during the final weekend of games it looked as if they would qualify as the best third-placed team but, only to be pipped at the post by Turkey on the final night. They will probably be the side that Martin O’Neill, his management team and players know least about and that in itself can be a dangerous thing. After all, there will be no ‘easy’ draw for this Irish team. They’ve come a long way from the side that lost 8-1 to the Netherlands two years ago and do have some names familiar to followers of the English leagues. Bogdan, Zera, Nemeth and Priskin to name a few but none to get too worried about. However they are twenty-one places above the Republic in the World Rankings!!
Key Man: Dzsudzsak
FIFA World Ranking: 33rd
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Any side that Edin Dzeko can’t force his way into must be half decent right? Well I suppose it depends how you rate the former Man City player!! The Bosnians had to settle for 3rd spot behind the new world number ones elect Belguim and Gareth Bale, sorry I meant Wales. It was their form early on in the qualifiers that proved their downfall, failing to win in their first four games (including a 2-1 home defeat to Cyprus in the opener) before finally brushing the mighty Andorra aside 3-0. They went on to win four of their next five games, falling only to table-toppers Belguim. Like the other three seeded teams, Ireland won’t fancy getting them but they have to draw someone and if it isn’t Hungary, Bosnia could be next in line. They have plenty of house-hold names such as Begovic, Pjanic and Besic and prior to the World Cup in Brazil last year (where they failed terribly) they were lauded for their excellent style of play. If they click they could give the Irish the run around.
Key Man: Pjanic, Dzeko (if given the chance)
FIFA World Ranking: 30th
After many days of results going for and against the Republic of Ireland in their bid to become one of the seeded teams for the European Championship play-offs, it all comes down to tonight. The word permutations has been thrown around more than a Conor Murray pass in Cardiff and the mathematicians have been brought in to sort it out at times. Thankfully, things have started to sort themselves out and we’ll know our faith, in terms of seeding by 9:30 tonight. The final round of group stage qualifiers take place and Ireland’s seeding hopes rest in the hands of the likes Turkey, Croatia and Cyprus.
After Ireland’s loss to Poland, there was still a multitude of possibilities concerning the teams that would join us in the play-offs. After Monday’s results, that’s cut down significantly.
Ukraine, Sweden and Slovenia joined Ireland, Denmark and Hungary as third place finishers. Ukraine’s 1-0 loss at home to Spain now means it’s almost certain that Hungary will get automatic qualification as best third place finishers. So that means there’s three groups left to be decided tonight.
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||9||4||2||3||14||10||4||14|
Italy vs Norway is the big one here. A win for the Italians and Croatia beating Malta would see Norway (ranked below us) drop into third and Croatia (ranked above us) gain an automatic qualification spot.
So where does all that leave Ireland? As things stand the seedings would look like this:
Seeded: Ukraine (9), Croatia (13), Bosnia (14) and Sweden (18)
Unseeded: Denmark (20), Ireland (21), Turkey (25) and Slovenia (28)
That means we need two teams to drop out of the seedings and none to jump in (other than Ireland of course). In other words we need all of the following to happen.
Group A: We need Turkey and Iceland to draw.
Group B: Cyprus to beat Bosnia or Cyprus and Bosnia to draw and Israel to beat Belgium.
Group H: Italy to beat Norway and Croatia to beat Malta.
Monday’s European Championship Qualifiers Group G
Austria -3 13/10
Russia win and btts 13/5
Sweden -2 6/4
Austria v Liechtenstein. The home side are unbeaten in this qualifying campaign, securing their place in next years’ finals in France with some games to spare. In fact you have to go back all the way to October 2013 for their last competitive loss, 2-1 away to Sweden. In the corresponding fixture with this evening’s opponents, Austria ran out comfortable 5-0 winners. And though they may field a weakened team this evening, -3 at 13-10 looks like a decent bet. Liechtenstein shipped seven goals at home to Russia two games ago and I expect something similar this evening.
Russia v Montenegro: A draw will secure automatic qualification for a Russian side who have failed to deliver too much in this campaign. Following two 1-0 defeats to table-toppers Austria, they gathered themselves somewhat to secure three wins including a vital 1-0 win over close rivals Sweden. Even if the latter defeat Moldova (and they should do easily), a draw for the Russians would put them on the plane to France due to their better head-to-head with Ibrahimovic and company. Montenegro have massively disappointed of late despite some decent talent at their disposal, taking only one point from the top three teams so far, a 1-1 draw away to Sweden. Russia will look to go for the win in this one and I fancy them to do so but with both teams to score. You can get odds of 13-5 on this outcome.
Sweden v Moldova: Sweden face a Moldovan side who have only managed to pick up two points in their nine games so far, two draws, one away to Liechtenstein and a creditable 1-1 draw away to Russia. I fancy Sweden to finish on a high in the hope Montenegro do them a favour in Moscow but regardless of what happens in eastern Europe, the men in yellow should win 3, maybe 4-0 home to lowly Moldova. The visitors actually go against this tip, conceding no more than two goals in any single game so far in this group. However I expect that to change tonight and Sweden -2 at 6-4 is the tip in this one.
Copyright (c) 2013 by Robert Cox
Norwich striker Kei Kamara, who’s over on loan from Kansas City in America, became an instant hero with Canaries supporters on Saturday. The 28-year-old scored to level the game against Everton before Grant Holt added a last-minute injury-time winner in a 2-1 win. As well as helping Norwich earn all three points, Kamara also put his name in the record books by becoming the first player from the African nation of Sierra Leone national to score a goal on the English Premier League.
There have now been goals scorers from 88 different nations in the Premier League. Kamara follows closely on the heels of Newcastle United’s Gael Bigirimana who became the first player from the nation of Burundi to score when he buried one against Wigan back in December.
There are 209 football associations across the world associated with FIFA, so there’s still a long way to go before the Premier League can boast a goal scorer from each of them. But 88 definitely proves that the English game may really just be English in name only these days.
If you’re interested, here’s a list of the 88 nations that have had a goal scorer in the Premier League and a player or two from each country.
Obviously for say Ireland or France there are going to be far too many scorers to mention so I will put in one at random. Hope the list interests you!! Starting with the strangest…
Burundi: Gaël Bigirimana (Newcastle United 2012- present)
Sierra Leone: Kei Kamara (Norwich City 2013 on loan)
Benin: Stéphane Sessegnon (Sunderland 2010 – present)
Bermuda: Shaun Goater (Manchester City 2000-01 + 2002-03)
Gabon: Daniel Cousin (Hull City 2008-10)
Montserrat: Ruel Fox (Norwich City, Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur 1992-00)
Zimbabwe: Peter Ndlovu (Coventry City 1992-97) Benjani Mwaruwari (Porstmouth, Man City, Sunderland, Blackburn Rovers 2005-11)
Liberia: George Weah (Chelsea, Man City 1999-01) Christopher Wreh (Arsenal 1997-99)
Latvia: Marian Pahars (Southampton 1998-04)
Guyana: Carl Cort (Wimbledon, Newcastle United, Wolves 1997-04)
Grenada: Jason Roberts (West Brom, Portsmouth, Wigan Athletic, Blackburn Rovers, Reading 2002- present)
Guinea: Titi Camara (Liverpool, West Ham United 1999-03)
Algeria: Hameur Bouazza (Watford)
Angola: Manucho (Hull City on loan from Man United 2009)
Antigua and Barbuda: Mikele Leigertwood (Reading 2011- present)
Argentina: Hernan Crespo (Chelsea)
Australia: Mark Viduka (Leeds, Middelsbrough, Newcastle 2000-09)
Austria: Andreas Weimann (Aston Villa)
Barbados: Emmerson Boyce (Wigan Athletic)
Belarus: Alexander Hleb (Arsenal)
Belgium: Philippe Albert (Newcastle United 1994-99)
Bosnia: Edin Dzeko (Man City)
Brazil: Elano (Man City 2007-09)
Bulgaria: Dimitar Berbatov (Spurs, Man United + Fulham)
Cameroon: Geremi (Newcastle United)
Canada: Tomasz Radzinski (Everton + Fulham)
Chile: Javier Margas (West Ham United 1998-01)
China: Sun Jihai (Man City 2002-08)
Colombia: Faustino Aspirlla (Newcastle United 1995-98)
Congo: Christopher Samba (Blackburn Rovers 2007-12)
Congo DR: Lomana LuaLua (Newcastle United + Portsmouth)
Costa Rica: Paolo Wanchope (Derby County, West Ham United + Man City)
Croatia: Davor Suker (Arsenal + West Ham United)
Czech Republic: Vladimír Smicer (Liverpool 1999-05)
Denmark: Peter Schmeichel (Aston Villa as a Goalkeeper 2001-02)
Ecuador: Antonio Valencia (Wigan Athletic + Man United)
Egypt: Mido (Tottenham Hotspur, Wigan Athletic + Middelsbrough)
England: Alan Shearer (Blackburn Rovers + Newcastle United)
Finland: Mikael Forssell (Chelsea + Birmingham City)
France: Eric Cantona (Man United) + Thierry Henry (Arsenal)
Georgia: Georgi Kinkladze (Man City + Derby County)
Germany: Jurgen Klinsmann (Tottenham Hotspur)
Ghana: Tony Yeboah (Leeds United)
Greece: Georgios Samaras (Man City)
Honduras: Maynor Figueroa (Wigan Athletic)
Hungary: Zoltan Gera (West Brom + Fulham)
Iceland: Eidur Gudjohnsen (Chelsea + Tottenham Hotspur)
Iran: Andranik Teymourian (Bolton Wanderers)
Israel: Yossi Benayoun (West Ham United, Liverpool, Chelsea + Arsenal)
Italy: Gianfranco Zola (Chelsea 1996-03)
Ivory Coast: Didier Drogba (Chelsea 2004-12
Jamaica: Ricardo Gardner (Bolton Wanderers 1998-12)
Japan: Hidetoshi Nakata (Bolton Wanderers 2005-06)
Korea Republic: Park Ji-Sung (Man United 2005-12)
Macedonia: Georgi Hristov (Barnsley 1997-98)
Mali: Frédéric Kanouté (West Ham United +Tottenham Hotspur)
Mexico: Javier Hernández (Man United 2010 – present)
Montenegro: Simon Vukcevic (Blackburn Rovers 2011-13)
Morocco: Mustapha Hadji (Coventry City + Aston Villa)
Netherlands: Dennis Bergkamp (Arsenal 1995-06)
New Zealand: Ryan Nelsen (Blackburn Rovers + QPR)
Nigeria: Jay-Jay Okocha (Bolton Wanderers 2002-06)
Northern Ireland: Steve Davis (Southampton + Aston Villa
Norway: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (Man United 1996-07)
Paraguay: Roque Santa Cruz (Blackburn Rovers + Man City)
Peru: Nolberto Solano (Newcastle United, Aston Villa + West Ham United)
Poland: Robert Warzycha (Everton 1991-94)
Portugal: Cristiano Ronaldo (Man United 2003-09)
Republic of Ireland: Robbie Keane (Coventry, Leeds, Spurs, Liverpool, West Ham + Aston Villa)
Romania: Adrian Mutu (Chelsea 2003-05)
Russia: Andrei Arshavin (Arsenal)
Scotland: Duncan Ferguson (Everton + Newcastle United 1994-06)
Senegal: Demba Ba (West Ham United, Newcastle United + Chelsea)
Serbia: Nemanja Vidic (Man United 2005 – present)
Slovakia: Martin Skrtel (Liverpool 2008 – present)
Slovenia: Robert Koren (West Brom 2007-10)
South Africa: Shaun Bartlett (Charlton Athletic 2000-06)
Spain: Michu (Swansea 2012 – present)
Sweden: Henrik Larsson (Man United 2006-07)
Switzerland: Gelson Fernandes (Man City 2007-09)
Togo: Emmanuel Adebayor (Arsenal, Man City + Spurs)
Trinidad and Tobago: Dwight Yorke (A.Villa, Man United, Blackburn, Birmingham + Sunderland)
Tunisia: Raidhi Jaidi (Bolton Wanderers)
Turkey: Tugay (Blackburn Rovers 2001-09)
Ukraine: Sergei Rebrov (Tottenham Hotspur 2000-04, West Ham United 2004-05)
USA: Joe-Max Moore (Everton 1999-02)
Uruguay: Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
Wales: Ryan Giggs (Manchester United 1990 – present)