Platini: Bring on the Irish
The Republic of Ireland were paired with France in the rehearsals for tomorrow’s Euro 2012 draw – and UEFA president Michel Platini admitted he would love it if the same thing happened again for real.
It would be an understatement to claim the Irish are nursing a sense of grievance at the events of a couple of months ago.
Coach Giovanni Trapattoni and his players were aghast at the late extra-time William Gallas goal that deprived them of at least a penalty shoot-out in their World Cup play-off clash with France.
Neither referee Martin Hansson, nor any of his officials, spotted Thierry Henry twice handle the ball before prodding over the fateful cross that allowed Gallas to seal a place at this summer’s World Cup for the 1998 winners.
If France were paired with the Republic in Group G as happened in Warsaw’s Palace of Culture and Science earlier today, their matches will be eagerly anticipated.
“It is my wish they play against each other. It would be great,” said the former France skipper, who led his team to victory in the 1984 tournament.
“I am not conducting the draw but I hope it happens.”
What definitely will not happen is Russia ending up in the same group as Georgia.
Although football’s authorities prefer to avoid making any decisions on political grounds, the simmering ill-feeling about South Ossetia meant there was a very real possibility of the two countries refusing to face each other if they ended up in the same group.
It is an issue that has already arisen once, in the case of Azerbaijan and Armenia, who cancelled both their scheduled matches in the recent World Cup qualifying campaign on safety grounds.
“We have consulted with other federations about this,” confirmed Platini.
“We do not want politics to interfere but there is a real possibility the teams would refuse to play the matches, which would make the whole thing very difficult.”
The move could impact on England because, with tomorrow’s draw starting with the weakest countries and ending with the strongest, they could end up in Georgia’s group instead of Russia should the possibility of a pairing occur between the divided neighbours.
Platini confirmed the qualifying matches, which start in September and run though to October 2011, with four play-offs after that to determine which of the group runners-up make it through along with nine winners and the second-placed team with the best record, would be the first to be played on Tuesdays.
The switch from traditional Wednesday night matches has been implemented to try and appease clubs, who were growing increasingly frustrated at not getting their star men back in time for scheduled league games the following weekend.
Countries will also have the option of playing on Friday evenings, although, in the UK at least, police considerations will have to be taken into account before that could happen.
Having taken the bold decision to let Poland and the Ukraine co-host the final 16-team tournament before it is expanded to 24 for Euro 2016, Platini admitted there were some organisational difficulties that remain unresolved.
Although Kiev, Donetsk, Lviv and Kharkiv have now been given the green light as venues, UEFA are still unable to confirm whether Donetsk will host a quarter-final because of concerns about the city’s ability to cope with thousands of fans flying in and out.
“I am sure Euro 2012 will be a huge success,” said Platini.
“But we have to recognise this is the first time Poland and the Ukraine have organised any major sporting event of this kind.
“In Ukraine at the moment there are a long list of things that need to be improved. They are struggling with a lot of problems and the quarter-final venue is one.
“Nevertheless, if we all work together, I am sure they will be ready.”
Pot One: Spain, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, England, Croatia, Portugal, France, Russia.
Pot Two: Greece, Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland, Serbia, Turkey, Denmark, Slovakia, Romania.
Pot Three: Israel, Bulgaria, Finland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Pot Four: Slovenia, Latvia, Hungary, Lithuania, Belarus, Belgium, Wales, FYR Macedonia, Cyprus.
Pot Five: Montenegro, Albania, Estonia, Georgia, Moldova, Iceland, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein.
Pot Six: Azerbaijan, Luxembourg, Malta, Faroe Islands, Andorra, San Marino.
:: Co-hosts Poland and the Ukraine, plus nine group winners and the best runner-up qualify automatically. The remaining eight runners-up play-off to fill the final four places.