Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Better Luck?

There's an air of the consolation prize about Ireland's Group B draw for the Euro 2012 qualifiers; perhaps this is what Sepp Blatter meant by the 'moral recompense' that was due us for suffering Thierry Henry's creative machinations last November. It's probably the best possible draw we could have expected as a third seed. Russia are most definitely the least fearsome of the top seeds and they have been unable to build on the promise of their Euro 2008 performance. True, Moscow in winter and the Luzhniki plastic pitch will present problems but if Guus Hiddink departs, as expected in July, I expect the Russians to revert to their usual febrile selves. Taking four points off them is well possible.

Slovakia took full advantage of a winnable, evenly-matched group to qualify for South Africa, their first ever finals as an independent country. How good they are is hard to gauge. Even under Stephen Staunton's shambolic reign Ireland were good enough to beat them in Dublin and almost repeat the trick in Bratislava. It probably would be a good idea to get the away game out of the way early in the campaign. Macedonia will send shivers up the spine of us all after the 3-2 defeat in 2007 and the last-minute goal two years later that cost us our place at Euro 2000. Avoiding the sweltering autumn and summer temperatures in Skopje will be paramount, even if we should fancy our chances. We will play Armenia for the first time, and Andorra for the second. At the risk of sounding cocky you would be expected to have twelve points there. It's not a terribly glamorous draw and the FAI won't be too enamoured of the task of putting bums on seats to watch Ireland play Armenia or Slovakia. But it gives us our best chance in years of winning a group.