Ukraine not to everyone’s taste but Hungary would go down nicely

Emmet Malone previews Ireland’s possible Euro 2016 playoff opponents

Martin O'Neill will be in Nyon, Switzerland, on Saturday morning where the draw for the play-off stage of the European Championship is due to take place shortly after 10.20am Irish time.

The Republic of Ireland manager has suggested he is relaxed about who Ireland end up having to play and, sure enough, none of the four seeded teams look all that daunting a prospect. Still, they are all ranked higher than Ireland and the other non-seeded teams for a reason, and a couple would likely involve tricky away trips next month.

Hungary look to be the most attractive of the four from an Irish perspective, with Bernd Storck's side, who almost went through directly as the best third-placed team, lacking the star quality of some of their other seeds. They only lost one of their games against the top two teams in their group – Northern Ireland and Romania – but struggled to see out important games in which they led. They took just one point from Greece who had an awful campaign.

For supporters, Budapest would be an attractive destination, although the limited capacity at the Groupama Arena, just 23,700, would almost certainly force a scramble for tickets, with visiting sides entitled to just 5 per cent of the seats.


Things in Bosnia and Herzegovina would be even tighter, with the FAI likely to be restricted to 750 or so tickets, something that has caused supporters' group You Boys In Green to call for clarity on how those available would be distributed.

The actual dates of the games will be announced shortly after the draw. The first legs will take place between November 12th and 14th, with the return matches on the 15th, 16th and 17th. The order in which sides paired against each other will play at home will be decided by a separate draw.

The Swedes will not play at home on November 12th as their stadium is unavailable.


Ranking: Fifa: 30. Uefa: 13. Journey to the play-offs: Finished behind Belgium and Wales. The group's top seeds got off on the wrong foot when they lost at home to Cyprus. Improved as the campaign went on, and later beat Wales 2-0. Stand-out players: Edin Dzecko's seven goals in seven games marks him out as a threat. Roma midfielder Miralem Pjanic and Senad Lulic of Lazio are both very capable. Desirability: They have players who could hurt Ireland. The away game would be tricky to get to.


Ranking: Fifa: 33. Uefa: 20. Journey to the play-offs: Finished behind Northern Ireland and Romania. Allowed winning positions against Michael O'Neill's men to slip twice. Got a good draw in Bucharest but could manage only one point against a disintegrating Greece. Stand-out players: None to speak of but former Crystal Palace, Burnley and 1860 Munich goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly, now 39, was generally solid bar a poor last game against Greece .

Desirability: They look to be the pick of the bunch, with no real star players and a good place to go for the fans.


Ranking: Fifa: 45. Uefa: 16. Journey to the play-offs: Finished behind Austria and Russia. After doing well to draw their first game of the campaign in Vienna they lost the return match 4-1 to the group winners and couldn't beat Russia. Stand-out players: Zlatan Ibrahimovic remains the star. At 34 he does not shine quite as brightly as before and has struggled to find his best this season due to injury, but can decide games in an instant. Desirability: Ibrahimovic aside, there would not be a whole lot between the sides. Stockholm is easily accessible but pricey.


Ranking: Fifa: 24 Uefa: 14. Journey to the play-offs: Finished behind Spain and Slovakia at the end of a campaign in which a scoreless draw in Slovakia was about as good as it got. They needed to win the game, though, having lost the first meeting between the sides 1-0 at home. Stand-out players: Seville winger Yevhen Konoplyanka springs to mind ,while Dynamo Kiev's Andriy Yarmolenko was the team's top scorer and has been linked with some very big sides in England and Spain. Desirability: The games would be tough for Ireland; the away trip difficult for the fans.


Already qualified: France(hosts), Iceland, Czech Republic, Belgium, Wales, Spain, Slovakia, Germany, Poland, England, Switzerland, Northern Ireland, Romania, Austria, Russia, Italy, Portugal, Albania, Croatia,Turkey. Seeded teams for play-offs: Hungary, Ukraine, Sweden, Bosnia & Herzegovnia. Unseeded teams for play-offs:Norway, Denmark, Slovenia, Republic of Ireland. Play-off dates: The first legs will take place on November 12th/13th/14th, with the second legs taking place on November 15th/16th/17th.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Industry and Employment Correspondent at The Irish Times