It’s the European Championship Finals draw which puts the hype in hypothetical for Ireland and 15 other nations.
Mick McCarthy’s team will be in today’s draw for the Euro 2020 finals but, like the other countries who have yet to negotiate play-offs, they won’t know until the end of March if they will actually get to participate in the tournament itself and, in Ireland’s case, get to host games at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
What we do already know
is that, should Ireland beat Slovakia away and then the winners of Bosnia v Northern Ireland, also away, in the play-offs, their dubious reward in the finals next summer will be to come up against European powerhouses Spain in Group E — and, because Spain have qualified automatically, that too would be an away day for the Irish.
A Spain-Ireland fixture, should the latter qualify, is pre-ordained because Dublin and Bilbao have been paired as host cities for the pan-European tournament which will see games played in 12 locations across the continent, including Bucharest, where today’s draw takes place in the Romanian capital’s Romexpo exhibition centre, at 5pm Irish time, with live coverage on RTÉ 2 starting at 4.45pm.
Today’s draw will reveal who, along with Spain, will make up the rest of Group E before the fourth place is filled by the winners of Ireland’s Path B play-offs. And as if having to first overcome Slovakia and either Northern Ireland or Bosnia wasn’t enough to be going on with, one nightmare draw scenario would see McCarthy’s team, should they make it through to the finals, up against France and Portugal as well as Spain.
The full range of possibilities in Group E is as follows: Spain and the winner of the Path B play-off plus one from France, Poland, Switzerland, and Croatia and one from Portugal, Turkey, Austria, Sweden, and the Czech Republic.
For today’s draw, Ireland will be in Pot 4 containing: Wales; Finland; Winner play-off Path A (Iceland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania); Winner play-off Path B (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovakia, Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland); Winner play-off Path C (Scotland, Norway, Serbia, Israel) and Winner play-off Path D (Georgia, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Belarus) The tournament, like Euro 2016, will feature 24 teams. Twenty have already secured their places, the final four to be determined by those March play-offs. In the finals, there will be six groups, each containing four teams. The top two teams from each group qualify for the round of 16, with the four best third-placed teams joining them.
The tournament opens in Rome on June 12 2020 and there will also be matches in the other 11 host cities of Amsterdam, Baku, Bilbao, Bucharest, Budapest, Copenhagen, Dublin, Glasgow, London, Munich, and Saint Petersburg. The group stage runs, with up to four matches a day, until June 24. Then it’s into straight knockout fixtures, with Wembley Stadium hosting the semi-finals and final, the latter taking place on Sunday July 12.
Mick McCarthy is not in Bucharest for today’s draw which will see the FAI represented by President Donal Conway and, on what will be his last day as the Association’s General Manager before he returns to UEFA duty, Noel Mooney.
Meanwhile, England have already been placed in Group D, and will play their three group stage matches at Wembley. They will definitely be joined by the team that wins play-off Path C, which contains Scotland along with Israel, Norway, and Serbia. If Scotland make it to the finals, they will play two matches at Hampden Park but would have to face England at Wembley.
Due to a variety of factors, Wales can only be placed in Group A or B. Group A features Italy, who will play all of their group matches in Rome. The other Group A venue is Baku, which would mean some long journeys for Wales’ travelling fans. If Ryan Giggs’ side are drawn into Group B, they would definitely face Belgium, Russia, and Denmark. Group B games will be played in Copenhagen and St Petersburg.