Trapattoni wish granted as Ireland draw Estonia
Republic given weakest opponents in Euro 2012 play-offs while Bosnia must face Portuguese
After the Republic of Ireland's passage to the play-offs was eased by the erroneous dismissal of Armenia's goalkeeper on Tuesday night, the Irish Times ran a poll asking if readers believed Giovanni Trapattoni was "a lucky manager".
Nearly two-thirds said he was. Confirmation that they were right followed yesterday when Zbigniew Boniek handed the Irish a play-off draw so favourable "Trap" could not have bettered it had he been able to script the draw.
Ireland will play Estonia, by some distance the weakest of their four possible opponents, with the second leg at home as Trapattoni had hoped. Bosnia, who were 12 minutes from qualifying when Samir Nasri won and scored the penalty that earned France a point, and qualification, in Paris on Tuesday, were presented with the toughest task: they face Portugal. In the other ties the Czech Republic meet Montenegro and Turkey play Croatia.
Estonia v Republic of Ireland
The Irish have only once previously reached the European Championship finals, under Jack Charlton in 1988, missing out at the play-off stage in 1996 and 2000. This time they should progress. Estonia do not have a single player based in the major western leagues – the nearest to it are Middlesbrough's Tarmo Kink and defender Ragnar Klavan of AZ Alkmaar – though they do have a trio of Russian-based players, notably striker Konstantin Vassiljev of Ankar Perm. Ireland face a side who have never reached a major finals and failed to score in six of their last nine internationals, losing all six, but qualified due to a trio of autumn wins, in Slovenia and home and away to Northern Ireland.
Kevin Doyle will be suspended for the first leg when the Irish will seek to keep a clean sheet, and maybe steal an away goal, but should be eligible for the return in Dublin on 15 November. Robbie Keane looks unlikely to make either match due to injury.
Prediction Republic of Ireland
Bosnia & Herzegovina v Portugal
Not much of a reward for Bosnia's heroics in Paris, but the Portuguese will be taking nothing for granted. They may have Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani, but Bosnia are well-organised, very determined and have Edin Dzeko. Nevertheless, Portugal should have the edge.
Czech Republic v Montenegro
Montenegro will feel they have a chance against one of the weaker Czech teams of recent years, one which was fortunate to finish above Scotland in qualifying. They will certainly worry the Czechs if they can reproduce the intensity they showed in the second half against England in Podgorica last week.
Turkey v Croatia
A repeat of the dramatic Euro 2004 quarter-final when Croatia scored in the last minute of extra-time, only for Turkey to snatch an equaliser and win on penalties. It could be just as hard to separate the teams, neither of whom are as strong as then, and both of whom failed to reach the 2010 World Cup. Second-leg home advantage may tilt the tie Croatia's way.
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