Euro 2020 qualifiers: Gibraltar v Ireland - all you need to know
The second coming of Mick McCarthy begins at the 2,300 capacity Victoria Stadium
Gibraltar train at the Victoria Stadium ahead of their clash with Ireland. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Saturday heralds the dawning of a new age, as the Republic of Ireland play their first competitive fixture of the post-Martin O’Neill era.
And a familiar face is back at the helm, with Mick McCarthy returning to start his second tenure as Ireland boss, after 17 years with Sunderland, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Ipswich Town.
Having touched the stars in Lille with victory over Italy during Euro 2016, O’Neill’s reign later drifted to a miserable, goalless conclusion.
Nations League relegation and four-consecutive games without a goal - the last a stalemate in Denmark - prodded the FAI into action.
And so it’s out with the old and in with the, erm, old, as McCarthy looks to guide Ireland to the 2020 European Championships, after which he will hand the keys to Lansdowne Road to new Under-21s boss Stephen Kenny.
It’s a bold new beginning with a vintage feel - and the journey starts on a tiny peninsula on the southern tip of Spain.
Indeed, on Saturday night Ireland take on the might of Gibraltar at the Victoria Stadium, in their opening Group D fixture.
Here is all you need to know, as the Mick McCarthy era gets under way - again.
What is it?
Ireland travel to play Gibraltar in their opening Euro 2020 qualification fixture.
When is it?
Saturday March 23rd, kick-off 5pm (Irish time).
Where is it?
The game is being held at Gibraltar’s 2,300 capacity Victoria Stadium. Previously, Gibraltar have been forced to hold home fixtures at the 30,000-seater Estádio Algarve - 5,393 were present for Ireland’s last visit in 2015.
How can I watch it?
The match is being broadcast live on RTÉ 2 (coverage starts at 4pm) and on Sky Sports Football (coverage 4.55pm).
You can also follow all of the action on the Irish Times liveblog from 4.30pm.
Saturday’s game is a sell-out - including Ireland’s allocation of 800.
How do the qualifiers work?
All 55 Uefa nations have been split into 10 groups, A-J - five containing five teams, five containing six.
Teams play each other twice, with the top two sides in each group automatically qualifying for Euro 2020.
There are 24 places on offer for the European Championships - the four remaining places will be decided via play-offs which are linked to performance in the Uefa Nations League. It’s complicated, but it’s explained HERE.
Where is Euro 2020 being held?
The next Euros is being spread across the continent - Dublin, London, Glasgow, Rome, Baku, St Petersburg, Amsterdam, Bucharest, Bilbao, Copenhagen, Munich and Budapest are the host cities.
Who else is in Ireland’s group?
As well as Gibraltar, Ireland will play Denmark, Georgia and Switzerland in Group D.
What are Ireland’s full fixtures?
March 23rd: Gibraltar (A) 5pm
March 26th: Georgia (H) 7.45pm
June 7th: Denmark (A) 7.45pm
June 10th: Gibraltar (H) 7.45pm
September 5th: Switzerland (H) 7.45pm
October 12th: Georgia (A) 2pm
October 15th: Switzerland (A) 7.45pm
November 18th: Denmark (H) 7.45pm
Back to Gibraltar, are they any good?
Julio César Ribas’s side are currently 194th in the Fifa rankings. They were accepted as a full Fifa member in 2016, after being granted full Uefa membership in 2013.
Have Ireland played them before?
Yes, twice. Ireland and Gibraltar were drawn together in Group D of the Euro 2016 qualifiers - spooky. Martin O’Neill’s men won 7-0 in Dublin and 4-0 on the Algarve.
How big is Gibraltar?
A British overseas territory, Gibraltar had a population of 34,571 as of 2017.
Who plays for them?
The majority of Gibraltar’s squad play for local side Lincoln Red Imps, who famously beat Celtic 1-0 in the first leg of a Champions League qualifier in 2016.
They’re captained by defender Roy Chipolina, while Danny Higginbotham is their most famous alumni - the former Manchester United defender earned three caps in the twilight of his career.
How have they been doing?
Gibraltar’s first two major qualification campaigns were baptisms of fire - they finished bottom of their group for the Euro 2016 and 2018 World Cup qualifiers, losing all of their matches and conceding 56 and 47 goals respectively.
However, the Uefa Nations League has offered respite for Gibraltar. Pitched in a group containing Macedonia, Armenia and Liechtenstein, they picked up six points - beating Armenia 1-0 away and Liechtenstein 2-1 at home.
With two wins from their last four competitive fixtures, Gibraltar are actually the form side heading into Saturday night’s game. . .
Mick McCarthy looks to have a relatively clean bill of health for the international break, with Shane Long one major absentee. His Southampton teammate Michael Obafemi is out for the season with a hamstring injury, with Preston North End’s Sean Maguire set to lead the line in Gibraltar.
All 23 members of McCarthy’s squad made the trip to Gibraltar on Thursday, with goalkeeper Mark Travers (Bournemouth), midfielders Jack Byrne (Shamrock Rovers) and Josh Cullen (Charlton Athletic) and striker James Collins (Luton Town) the uncapped players.
It will be interesting to see how - or if - McCarthy accommodates both his captain Seamus Coleman and the squad’s form player - Matt Doherty of Wolves.
What’s the betting?
Save your money:
Gibraltar 50-1 Draw 20-1 Ireland 1-25
How’s the weather looking?
Sod’s law dictated Ireland travel to Gibraltar in March rather than in the summer - the forecast is for temperatures of around 17 degrees and showers.
I wonder what Declan Rice is up to. . .