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Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Republic Of Ireland Seeded But Tough Opponents Still Await

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The news that the Republic of Ireland are seeded for the Euro 2012 play-offs will at least allow Giovanni Trappatoni's squad to avoid the most dangerous side in the draw - Portugal - but the cliche 'there are no easy games' really does apply here.

And it especially applies to Ireland. In six play-off attempts for World Cups and European Championships the Irish have only qualified once. Iran were removed in 2002 to get to the World Cup but there has been a lot of heartbreak- most recently the furore over Thierry Henry's handball in the play-off for World Cup 2010

The four teams that Ireland could now meet are Montenegro, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Turkey and Estonia. Of that quartet it's fairly clear which nation most pundits would like to draw, but even a tie with the weakest contender has its dangers.

Estonia would be considered the weakest team and are certainly the lowest ranked. The Baltic state have worked wonders to get here but still only arrived after Serbia imploded. A qualification record with four defeats in 10 matches is a fair reflection of their status.

Nonetheless, anyone drawing Estonia must beware the example set by Latvia who were similarly placed in 2004 and managed to bundle Turkey (World Cup semi-finalists in 2002) out of the competition over two legs. Estonia have absolutely nothing to lose, having surpassed expectations already.

Montenegro are familiar from England's group and have squeezed in ahead of Switzerland. Any of the nations from the former Yugoslavia can be relied upon to be composed, well-organised and comfortable on the ball. Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia have all reached tournament finals and now Montenegro and Bosnia/Herzegovina are trying to do the same.

The Bosnians have just taken France all the way in their qualifying group, following up a very respectable effort in the qualification campaign for the 2010 World Cup. They look like a nation ready to take their place on the big stage.

Turkey have gone from easy meat in the 1970s and 1980s (the days when England knocked eight past them) to one of the heavy hitters of European football. The Champions League hardened players from the likes of Galatasaray in the 90s and this was converted to tournament qualification on a regular basis.

The Turks were at Euro 2008 and again put on a tremendous show to reach the last four. An away leg in Istanbul is always a fearsome prospect in front of a partisan crowd and several of the 2008 squad are still available.

The history of Ireland's past ties in play-offs makes one thing certain- win or lose, its likely to go down to the wire and stretch the nerves of Irish fans to breaking point.

Calling all Ireland fans. Who would you like to meet/avoid in the play-offs? How confident are you of booking your place at Poland and Ukraine next summer? Whatever your view, we'd love to hear from you.

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The View from Outside the Premier League: Hugh Larkin takes a look at the major talking points in the Football League

Chris Pettitt's Outside the Box: Our regular TV critic gets his teeth into Wayne Rooney, Robbie Savage's dancing and Martin Keown on Football Focus

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