Mick McCarthy recalls unfinished business with Switzerland
Danish and Swiss far from put out by Republic’s presence as a third seed in their group
Mick McCarthy with John Delaney at the draw for the Uefa European Championships at the Convention Centre in Dublin. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Mick McCarthy appeared to be joking in the post-European Championship draw mixed zone about getting revenge on the Swiss for that 2-1 home defeat they inflicted on him 16 years ago in his last game in charge of Ireland first time around.
Then somebody followed up with: “Joking aside, though . . .” and he cut back in to drily observe that he wasn’t joking. At least, he’s already got his motivation figured out.
His side’s chief qualification rivals might find it a tiny bit less straightforward for they have precious little to avenge against Ireland these days.
There have three competitive encounters between Switzerland and Ireland since that night at Lansdowne Road when McCarthy’s late bid to win a game Ireland were drawing ended up being seen as having contributed to a defeat.
On each occasion the Swiss have, when push came to shove, got what they needed and more than a decade on they are operating at a slightly different level to a side that might, for a short while back then, have been considered a close rival.
Much more recently, the Danes won the only game of four between the two sides that ultimately mattered. The other three have ended without a goal but it is fair to say that Age Hareide’s side coasted, fairly effortlessly through a couple of them.
The one in Aarhus a couple of weeks ago, when the Irish could not manage even a shot on target, would probably have promoted the FAI to dispense with Martin O’Neill’s services if they had not already taken the decision to do so.
It was scarcely surprising then that neither Swiss coach Vladimir Pektovic nor Hareide’s number two Jon Dahl Tomasson seemed overly put out by the third seeds their sides had been handed.
Nobody was foolish enough to be deliberately disrespectful, of course, but fear wasn’t exactly the overriding sense conveyed as they mulled things over in the mixed zone.
“It is, as we say, a makeable group for us,” said Pektovic who probably feels a good deal more confident about these things after the way his side came from 2-0 down against the Belgians a couple of weeks back to secure a remarkable 5-2 victory and so ensure qualification for the semi-finals, not to be confused with the qualification play-offs, of the Nations League.
“Yes, we have improved but tomorrow is a new day and our aim is to confirm that we have improved then and the next day . . . it’s very important.”
A tight World Cup play-off against Northern Ireland provided some small sense, he acknowledged, of what he and his players might expect next year but, he said: “It’s very hard to make the comparison between the two teams. It will be a different game and a new coach can lead to improvements but what worries me more is that they [Ireland] don’t concede a lot of goals.
“I remember when we played against them [in a friendly in March 2016] it was very hard to score against them and we didn’t succeed in the end. That will be the focus now, to try and score against this strong defending team.”
The Danes have had a few problems on that scoring front too – although not when it mattered most with the deluge last year in Dublin serving as a warning of just how badly things can go wrong when Ireland have to chase a game against sides of their quality.
“I think when new people come in, things will change a bit,” said Tomasson before adding, a little damningly: “You can always change the system, the way of thinking, but still the players will be the same. It’s always the quality of the player which is the conclusion as to how you will play.
“I think we know all the players quite well. They will probably not get any new players in, but at the end of the day we have to look at ourselves, how we are performing, how we are playing and the way we want to play. I think we are strong. I know Ireland are a good side. But we enjoy coming here to Dublin.”
For Georgia, their coach Vladimir Weiss said, it is, after some tough games and close run things, “time to finally win against Ireland.”
A successful Nations League campaign – they won their League D group and are sure of a play-off that offers a realistic prospect of qualification – will have boosted confidence and McCarthy’s side will have to be better against them than last time when a 1-1 draw might easily have ended in defeat.
Gibraltar also tasted victory in the Nations League and, though they hope to play their games on home soil, the ease of Ireland’s two victories the last time the sides met suggests that pretty most of McCarthy’s men would have to have “a Macedonia,” for their campaign to hit the rocks there.
Avoiding them elsewhere, though, looks set to be quite a challenge.