Last-night drama sees Ireland miss out on seeding

Ireland have missed out on a seeding for the Euro 2016 play-offs next month.

The complex co-efficent system after last night’s round of matches means Ireland can meet Ukraine, Sweden, Bosnia or Hungary in the two-legged play-off.

The unseeded teams are Denmark, Ireland, Norway and Slovenia.

Meanwhile, there is encouraging news on the injury front for Martin O’Neill, with Shane Long and Shay Given looking set to be firmly back in contention for next month’s play-off after both players had to be stretchered from the field in the games against, respectively, Poland and Germany.

Long was in considerable pain after the heavy challenge which ended his involvement in Warsaw but, after initial fears that he might have suffered ligament or bone damage, a scan has indicated nothing more serious than soft tissue impact — meaning bruising and swelling — around his ankle.

Radiology tests are expected to be conducted at his club Southampton but, at this moment, the prognosis for a speedy recovery is said to be good.

The latest on Shay Given is that the twisted knee he suffered last Thursday against Germany is responding well to treatment, the initial swelling having subsided after fluid was drained from the affected area.

With John O’Shea ruled out of the first leg of the play-off through injury, O’Neill will be anxious to see Ciaran Clark back in action for Aston Villa. However, having targeted Saturday’s game against Chelsea for his return, Clark is not now expected to be available for that game, as he is requires further time to recover from the thigh strain which saw him ruled out of the matches against Germany and Poland.

As he assesses his centre-half options, Ireland’s manager will also be closely monitoring Stoke City’s Marc Wilson to see how he progresses following his recent lay-off with a calf injury.

Elsewhere, Robert Lewandowski has rubbed salt into Ireland’s wounds by labelling Martin O’Neill’s side “long-ball” merchants.

The Polish goal-machine’s bullet header earned the hosts a 2-1 victory on Sunday and automatic qualification at the expense of their opponents.

Joyous scenes may have followed the final whistle, with Lewandowski leading his colleagues on a lap of honour around the National Stadium, but there was little by way of compliments about the style of play from Ireland when he was questioned on the approach adopted by O’Neill.

“The only thing Ireland offered in this match was long balls,” said the Bayern Munich frontman, his 13 goals keeping him at the top of the Euro qualification scoring chart.

“Ireland hardly had a single scoring chance. We were much the better team.” Centre-back Kamil Glik was a tad more gracious in his comments, revealing he’d offered an apology to Shane Long for the tackle which saw the Ireland striker leave the stadium on crutches. Still, the Torino defender was adamant his challenge was fully within the rules.

“I have already apologised to Shane Long,” admitted Glik. “But the tackle was not a foul because the referee did not blow his whistle.”

Ireland’s potential opponents:

Ukraine

Finished third behind Spain and Slovakia, having started Group C as second seeds. Lost at home to Slovakia in their first match, and took more points on the road (10) than at home (9).

Coach Mykhaylo Fomenko, in charge since February 2013, favours a 4-2-3-1 formation, in which the attacking midfield trio of Andriy Youmolenko, Denys Harmash (Dynamo Kiev) and Yevhen Konoplyanka (Sevilla) are all involved in the UEFA Champions League.

Beaten twice by Spain on their way to the play-offs.

Four years after Ireland, Ukraine lost a World Cup play-off to France, blowing a 2-0 lead from the first leg in Paris.

Ireland’s past meetings with Ukraine: none.

Sweden

Another second-ranked team who under-achieved, Erik Hamren’s team had exactly the same record as Ireland in the qualifiers: 5 wins, 3 draws and 2 defeats. Beaten away to Russia (0-1) and at home to Austria (1-4), the top two, Sweden relied on top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic (8 goals).

A permanent jinx rival for Ireland, who have never beaten them in a competitive match.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Goalkeeper Asmir Begovic and striker Edin Dzeko are the big names in Mehmed Bazdarevic’s squad, who were top seeds in Group B. A late rally in Group B secured three successive wins to clinch a play-off spot. Bosnia’s only meeting with Ireland ended in a 1-0 defeat in Dublin in May 2012.

Hungary

German coach Bernd Storck, who previously managed Kazahstan, took charge for Hungary’s final four matches in Group F, where the once-mighty Magyars finished behind Northern Ireland and Romania to drop below their original second-status. Hungary secured two points fewer than Martin O’Neill’s team, and managed only one point against Northern Ireland.


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