IN A decision sure to prompt anger, European football’s governing body UEFA has confirmed that not only will the play-offs for the 2012 European Championships be seeded — but the seeded teams will then be guaranteed home advantage in the second leg.
The Irish Examiner has learned that FAI chief executive John Delaney has already written to UEFA to express his concern about the plan. While opposed in principle to the seeding of the play-offs, the FAI boss is understood to be especially concerned about the decision to give home advantage to the seeded team in the return leg.
With the dust on Ireland’s controversial defeat to France in the World Cup play-off still settling, the UEFA initiative will be widely interpreted as further evidence that, far from promoting concepts of fair play, football’s international authorities appear determined to load the dice in favour of the game’s big powers.
The FAI and Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni were dismayed when FIFA belatedly announced that the draw for the recent World Cup play-offs would be seeded, the decision from Zurich only confirmed in late September when it became clear that European football superpowers such as Portugal and France were unlikely to progress automatically to the cup finals in South Africa.
Then, in what was regarded by Trapattoni as a further obstacle to his team’s chances of progressing, the bad luck of the draw gave the French home advantage in the second leg — although, as things turned out in the Stade de France last Wednesday, it ultimately took a travesty of justice to ensure the home side’s progress.
But, for the play-offs for the Euro finals in Poland and Ukraine in 2012, the home and away factor will not even be left to chance, with UEFA yesterday confirming that the seeded teams will automatically get to play the return match at home.
In response to an inquiry from this newspaper, a UEFA spokesperson referenced article 7.07 of the governing body’s regulations for the 2012 European Championship. After stating that the eight runners-up in qualifying will contest play-off matches, Article 7.07 — with the devil, as ever, in the detail — continues: “The four ties are determined by means of a draw. The four runners-up with the best position in the UEFA national team coefficient ranking system are seeded for the draw. The play-offs are played according to the knockout system, with each team playing each opponent twice, in home and away matches. The seeded teams play the return match at home. The teams which score the greater aggregate of goals in the two matches qualify for the final tournament.”
Perhaps the only small consolation is that, at least this time, the FAI, in common with all the other European associations, have been appraised of the play-off rules well before their national teams even start out on the long road to Poland and Ukraine.
Giovanni Trapattoni also knows that his team already faces an uphill task before the qualifying draw takes place in February, with UEFA having confirmed last week that Ireland will be third seeds when the balls go into the pots in Warsaw, alongside Northern Ireland, Scotland, Israel, Bulgaria, Finland, Norway, Austria and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The UEFA coefficients which determined these seedings are based on a complicated system involving performances in the 2006 World Cup finals and preceding qualifying campaign, Euro 2008 and its qualifying campaign and 2010 World Cup qualifying. But, although UEFA say that “more recent results are given greater consideration”, Ireland’s unbeaten run in the regulation World Cup qualifying campaign was still evidently not enough to get them a place as second seeds alongside the likes of Czech Republic, Romania, Sweden and Turkey — all of whom failed to even make the play-offs.
The qualifying campaign for Euro 2012 will comprise six groups of six teams and three groups of five. The nine winners and best runner-up will qualify directly for the finals, with eight remaining runners-up contesting the play-offs. As co-hosts, Poland and Ukraine qualify automatically.
The draw takes place in Warsaw on February 7.
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