Déjà vu as Ireland draw Wales and Denmark in Nations League
Martin O’Neill’s men will face familiar foes in inaugural edition of new Uefa competition
The new Uefa Nations League trophy. Photograph: Pierre Albouy/Reuters
The Republic of Ireland have drawn Denmark and Wales, the two sides they faced in key games during the latter stages of their World Cup qualifying campaign, in the Nations League.
Martin O’Neill’s side will face their rivals home and away over the course of September, October and November with the group winners winning promotion to the League A of the new competition the next time it is run and, in the event that they do not qualifying for Euro2020 through the normal group stages, progressing to the playoffs for one of the places at the tournament that the Nations league has to offer.
The draw means that O’Neill and his players will return to Cardiff, the scene of comfortably their best performance and result of 2017. James McClean’s goal there in October earned Ireland a 1-0 win and put them into the playoffs for a place for this summer’s World cup.
The reunion, meeting, with Denmark will provide the opportunity for a measure of revenge after the heavy 5-1 home defeat by Age Hareide’s side in November.
“Well, it’s déjà vu for us,” said O’Neill shortly after the draw was completed.
“We beat Wales to qualify for the playoffs and then we’ve got Denmark who beat us in the playoffs, beat us convincingly in the second game so, matches that, I think we all know each other pretty well.”
Asked, by Sky Sports, if he would view the Denmark games as an opportunity for revenge, he said he would, observing that: “That’s the way we would look at it, yeah; it’s still fresh in the memory so we would want to avenge that if at all possible.”
The competition, he says, is a positive development with added weight given to games that perhaps needed a greater sense of urgency about them but the fact that there will be more at stake when group matches come around late in the year means, he admits, that there will be work to be tackled in terms of developing the team over the coming months.
“We’ve got some friendly games coming up now,” he said, “we’ve got a game in March, I think that that’s maybe a time for us to experiment, a time to bring some of the younger players through and hopefully we’ve got at least one game, against France, at the end of May, beginning of June time and the possibility of another game. I think that those matches you use as that sort of opportunity.
“I think these games, starting in September, have a significance all of the own so I think the experimentation might have to disappear.
“Friendly games over the last couple of years became important, they had some impact on coefficients, but after all, they were just friendly matches. Here, there’s competition attached, it’s important, there’s promotion, there’s relegation and all of those things eventually affect the placings for qualifying for the European nations [Championships] so yeah, I am in total agreement with it; once I found out what the rules actually were; Great!”
Asked about his decision to turn down the Stoke City job and stay on with Ireland, O’Neill later told reporters that: “In terms of adhering to my agreement with John, I wasn’t breaking any rules.
“We had an agreement but both of us could agree, you have to agree to terms for a start. I’m sure you were in the same position yourselves with your employers. You might have an agreement but until everything is actually settled, who knows what the finances might have been? Who knows? I had an agreement to stay on here.
“I think as John mentioned, I’m not one that is liable to take myself off at a moment’s notice. I think that [if you look at] the number of years I’ve spent at clubs, I’ve been here for four years as well and I wouldn’t take things too lightly. I’m here and delighted to be here.”
Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill, it is reported meanwhile, has agreed a four-year contract extension with the IFA that will keep him in his current role until 2024.
The former Shamrock Rovers boss turned down the Scotland job earlier this week after having had talks with the SFA.
Group 1: Netherlands, France, Germany
Group 2: Iceland, Switzerland, Belgium
Group 3: Poland, Italy, Portugal
Group 4: Croatia, England, Spain
Group 1: Slovakia, Ukraine, Czech Republic
Group 2: Russia, Sweden, Turkey
Group 3: Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Northern Ireland
Group 4: Wales, Republic of Ireland, Denmark
Group 1: Scotland, Albania, Israel
Group 2: Hungary, Greece, Finland, Estonia
Group 3: Slovenia, Norway, Bulgaria, Cyprus
Group 4: Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, Lithuania
Group 1: Georgia, Latvia, Kazakhstan, Andorra
Group 2: Belarus, Luxembourg, Moldova, San Marino
Group 3: Azerbaijan, Faroe Islands, Malta, Kosovo
Group 4: FYR Macedonia, Armenia, Liechtenstein, Gibraltar