Euro 2020 qualifier draw: get to know Ireland’s Group D rivals
McCarthy’s side will renew rivalries with Denmark while the Swiss are top seeds
Fifa ranking: 8
Manager: Vladimir Petkovic
Being drawn against the team ranked eighth in the world and one of the four Uefa Nations League finalists should be a daunting prospect but, ultimately, the Swiss are one of the more favourable opponents Ireland could have faced from pot one. Switzerland have qualified comfortably for the last three major international tournaments, entering each as potential dark horses.
Yet they have failed to really make their mark on the biggest stage, exiting the 2014 and 2018 World Cups - and the 2016 Euros - after the first knockout round. Xherdan Shaqiri remains their star player, while 23-year-old Borussia Dortmund centre-half Manuel Akjani is one of Europe’s brightest defensive prospects. Mick McCarthy’s final game during his first stint in charge of Ireland was a 2-1 defeat to the Swiss at home. However, Switzerland’s 5-2 Nations League win over Belgium shows exacting revenge won’t be easy.
Fifa ranking: 10
Manager: Åge Hareide
Here we go again. Ireland have played Denmark four times since November 2017, grinding out three goalless draws and receiving a pretty grim 5-1 hammering in Dublin. That night it was Christian Eriksen who destroyed Martin O’Neill’s side and trashed World Cup dreams, and the Tottenham schemer will be the obvious danger when rivalries are renewed next year. The Danes without Eriksen - who is truly world class - are a far less imposing proposition.
However, Age Hareide’s side are well organised and Ireland didn’t get close to breaking them down in 180 minutes of huffing and puffing during the Nations League. That perhaps says more about Ireland in the dying embers of the O’Neill era than it does the Danes, and providing they are rejuvenated under McCarthy then the latest trip to Copenhagen shouldn’t be one full of trepidation.
Fifa ranking: 89
Manager: Vladimír Weiss
Georgia were one of Ireland’s opponents during qualification for the 2016 European Championships, and proved particularly useful bedfellows. As well as providing Martin O’Neill’s men with six priceless points they also did their bit by beating Group D rivals Scotland 1-0. The two sides were brought together again during qualification for the 2018 World Cup and the Georgians dished out a bit of revenge - holding Ireland to a particularly dismal and damaging 1-1 draw in Tbilisi.
While they are ranked 89th in the world, Vladimír Weiss’s side will enter qualification with plenty of confidence after a fine Nations League campaign. Georgia earned promotion from League D after romping their group, winning five games and drawing one with a goal difference of +10. Granted, their opponents were Kazakhstan, Latvia and Andorra, but now they’ve picked up the winning habit the Georgians could be potentially sticky opposition.
Fifa ranking: 194
Manager: Julio César Ribas
Gibraltar were another member of Ireland’s Euro 2016 qualification group, which was their first campaign after being granted full member status by Uefa in 2013. And like Georgia, Gibraltar provided six points on the journey to France, with Ireland winning 7-0 at home and 4-0 away - Robbie Keane helping himself to a hat-trick and then a brace.
Julio César Ribas’s side are currently ranked 194th in the world, and they were the 55th seed out of the 55 sides who are bidding for Euros qualification. Despite being ranked bottom they enjoyed a good Nations League campaign, beating Armenia 1-0 at home and Liechtenstein 2-1 away - avoiding bottom spot in their Division Four group. However, if Ireland are to have any hopes of making it to Euro 2020 then two goal difference boosting victories over Gibraltar are a must.