Euro 2012 Play Off Preview

It doesnt seem that long ago since Theirry Henry decided to stick his hand out and bring France to the World Cup Finals in South Africa at the expense of The Republic of Ireland. However, the time has come again for Trapattoni’s men to give it another ‘lash’ and try to qualify for Ireland’s first Major Tournament since their controversial outing in Japan and South Korea in 2002. 7 other nations will be also be competing for a place at the finals next summer in Poland and Ukraine.

Ireland were one of four seeded teams when the draw was made in Warsaw, Poland on the 13th of October. The other 3 were Portugal, Croatia and the Czech Republic. The draw was made up by Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina, newcomers Montenegro and minnows Estonia.

The draw was as follows:

Estonia Vs Ireland

Bosnia Vs Portugal

Montenegro Vs Czech Republic

Turkey Vs Croatia

Estonia Vs Ireland

All the talk before the draw was made was whether Ireland would be seeded for the draw. All the furore prior to the play-off campaign in 2009 was that it was unfair on smaller nations such as Ireland that they had a disadvantage over so-called ‘bigger nations’. However, it has proved to have worked in their favour this time around as they were drawn alongside who many perceive as the weakest team left in the competition.

Robbie Keane celebrates Ireland's opening goal vs France in Paris (2009)

However, despite their low ranking the Estonians are a lively outfit who could ensue Giovanni Trapattoni will have a few headaches over the next seven days. They performed well in Group C and boasted some impressive results during their campaign – including home and away victorys over Ireland’s fierce rivals Northern Ireland.

Since the qualifying campaign started it was evident that Ireland would claim at least a play off spot but they were pushed all the way by surprise package Armenia. Despite Ireland having a superior team and pool of players to choose from, their injury and suspension list keeps on growing, especially amongst their forwards. Kevin Doyle is suspended for the first leg in Tallin, Shane Long is almost certainly out after he picked up a ‘chipped bone’ in his knee and Robbie Keane could miss because of a long-standing ankle injury.

Prediction: Despite this, I still expect Ireland to qualify 3 – 1 on aggregate.

Bosnia Vs Portugal

Edin Dzeko celebrates his 4 goals vs Spurs back in August

After these two meet over the next week, it is fairly safe to say, that they will both be sick of the sight of one another. The two countries last met at the same stage when they both attempted to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Portugal came out on top in that instance, 2-0 on aggregate with goals from Bruno Alves and Raul Meireles in each game.

Not a lot has changed since these two last met. It is quite evident that whatever forward line performs at the highest level during the two games will come out on top in this encounter. Most eyes will be on Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo who will be expected to jettison Portugal to Poland and Ukraine next summer in the same manner that he has propelled his club to the top of La Liga.

The same could also be said of Eden Dzeko who almost single-handedly brought Bosnia to the finals without having to go through the play offs after he scored a screamer in the final group game in Paris against the French. He has also been in top form for Manchester City and has aided their bid for a first league title in 43 years with 10 league goals so far.

Prediction: This promises to be the tie of the round, my prediction is 3-2 on aggregate in Portugal’s favour.

Montenegro Vs Czech Republic

Again, this is one of the ties which promises to be a really good contest. It could be billed as the ‘Old Guard’ against the ‘New kids on the block’. Mainly because The Czech’s have a long history of success in this competition. The last lifted this famous trophy in 1976* under Václav Ježek and they then came close again in 1996 when they were beaten by Germany at Wembley. 1996 seemed to herald a new era for the Czechs as superstars such as Jan Koller, Patrick Berger and Karel Poborski all broke through and helped them on another amazing run to the semi finals in Euro 2004. However, Petr Cech (who is doubtful for the first leg due to a broken nose) who was an ever-present in Portugal is now captain amid suggestions that they are very much a spent force.

On the other hand, Montenegro seem to be the best up and coming nation in world football. They based their qualifying campaign on having a very solid defence (Only 7 goals conceded throughout their qualifying campaign to date). They also have 2 of Serie A’s finest strikers in Mirko Vucenic and Stefan Jovetic. Back at the start of September, they had a moment of madness when they sacked influential coach Zlatko Kranjcar and replaced him with Branko Brnovic after their loss to Wales, whilst they still had a realistic chance of automatic qualification. We will find out next week if this decision was proven to be the correct one.

Prediction: I fully expect the Czech Republic ‘old guard’ to triumph 2-1 on aggregate.

*Back in 1976 they were known as Czechoslovakia

Turkey Vs Croatia

Both of these teams can be compared to the Czech Republic in a way, in the last 10 years both have seen better days but on their day they can beat any side. Especially Turkey, who shocked many people at Euro 2008 by getting to the Semi Finals and were inches away from beating the Germans on a stormy night in Austria. Back then they were under the stewardship of Fatih Terim, but now their coach is none other than the wily old Dutchman Guus Hiddink. It has been rumoured in recent times that he could be returning to Chelsea in a Director Of Football capacity should Turkey fail to reach the finals.

However, with players such as Hamit Altintop, Volkan Demirel and Arda Turan it is still possible that they could have an impact at next years finals.

Slaven Bilic - The Croatia manager

Likewise, Croatia had an excellent tournament at Euro 2008 and Luka Modric showed the world that he is a top performer during a win over Germany in the group stages of that tournament. They are still coached by the charismatic, chain-smoking, rock and roll loving Slaven Bilic. There was a big surprise in Zagreb when Bilic left Bolton Striker Ivan Klasnic of his 24 man squad for the play offs. The squad included players such as Ivica Olic, Dario Srna and Ivan Perisic so they will be a tough task for the Turks.

Prediction: Possibly the hardest of the 4 ties to call, but I will plump for Turkey to win on penalties.

It promises to be a very interesting campaign and no matter who succeed over the next 7 days,  they will all be worthy of  place at next summers finals.

Follow me on twitter here


One Comment on “Euro 2012 Play Off Preview”

  1. Hey!

    Great analysis of the Estonia-Ireland match. I’d believe Ireland to easily qualify, yet Estonia has proven to be a pain in the arse when they play at home. The stadium isn’t at all spectacular, but the crowds are. It’ll be a fierce 2 games…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s