Ireland seek to end play-off woe

 

Five qualifying play-offs against European opposition without success is the discouraging record, but this time the Republic of Ireland hope it will be different after back-to-back wins in the last qualifying round lifted them into the seeding positions for today's draw for the Euro 2012 qualifying play-offs.

Ireland thus avoid Portugal, the most dangerous of the eight teams involved, but could face a Montenegro side that drew home and away with England in qualifying, as they did against the Republic in the 2010 World Cup campaign.

Ireland's only previous play-off success was against Iran in reaching the 2002 World Cup. They have lost to Spain (1966 World Cup), the Netherlands (Euro 1996), Belgium (World Cup 1998), Turkey (Euro 2000) and France (World Cup 2010).

They will play the first leg without striker Kevin Doyle, who will be suspended after being dismissed, for the first time in his career, against Armenia on Tuesday, and probably Robbie Keane, who has a muscle injury. Uefa's website indicated the draw would decide the order of matches, although the competition regulations states seeded teams will be at home in the second leg.

The finals draw takes place in Kiev in December. Although Uefa's co-efficient rankings, which are used for seedings, will be adjusted to take in the play-off results before then, Spain, the Netherlands and the hosts should be in the first pot; England will be in the second pot. Ireland, if they qualify, will be in the third or fourth pot depending on the other play-off winners. On present reading it is possible that, should Portugal qualify, England could be paired with Spain, Portugal and France while Ireland could get Spain, Germany and France.

The latter could be a threat with Laurent Blanc bringing in some impressive young players. They will not be as nervous as during the 1-1 draw with Bosnia in Paris on Tuesday either, when they needed Samir Nasri's penalty to qualify. He said: "When I took the ball, I tried to breathe to recover... I thought of Arsène Wenger, who said to me last season: 'When the foul is on you, you should get justice yourself.'"

Who will Irish face?

Turkey Friday's home defeat to Germany cost Guus Hiddink's team their seeding. Controversially reached Euro 2000 at Irish expense in a play-off.

Bosnia & Herzegovina Never reached a major tournament but not to be underestimated after pushing the French so close in Paris on Tuesday. Manchester City's Edin Dzeko is the standout figure.

Montenegro Held Ireland to two goalless draws in 2010 World Cup qualifying and frightened England this time around.

Estonia The weakest play-off contender. Lost six of their last nine matches, including against the Faroe Islands, but did beat Northern Ireland home and away.

Draw: Krakow, noon. TV: Eurosport

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