Attention, football fans! Ireland will play Slovakia in March in the first stage of the play-offs to qualify for the Euro 2020 championships.
In the world of football, Ireland’s players are set to contest another round of play-offs in March 2020 in an attempt to secure a second consecutive appearance at the European Championships.
The side, managed by Mick McCarthy, enters the play-offs following their 1-1 home draw with Denmark in their final group game, falling just short of automatic promotion.
There are sixteen teams competing in the play-offs, divided into four separate groups, or ‘Paths’ (A-D). There will be two semi-final games in each Path, and the winning sides in the last four games will face each other in the Path final.
It is only the winner of the final that will be guaranteed a spot at Euro 2020, meaning four of the sixteen teams will emerge from the qualifying stage.
Ireland have been placed in Path B and will face Slovakia in the semi-final on March 26. Victory will see a potentially controversial clash with the North of Ireland in Belfast on March 31, or a tie against Bosnia if they prevail in the other semi-final. The winner will then progress to the Euro 2020 competition.
The new play-off system represents a radically different creature from their predecessors, where teams played each other over two games (known as ‘legs’), and the team with a better aggregate score advanced.
Ireland’s path to play-offs
Ireland performed admirably throughout their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, losing only one game along the way in a group that included Switzerland and Denmark.
Ireland picked up two early wins against Gibraltar and Georgia before an excellent 1-1 draw with Denmark in Copenhagen.
Another victory over Gibraltar on match-day four was Ireland’s last win of the campaign, as draws against Switzerland and Georgia followed.
Ireland’s 2-0 defeat to the Swiss away from home in the penultimate game meant they needed victory against Denmark to secure automatic qualification.
However, a late Matt Doherty equaliser wasn’t enough as the 1-1 draw meant that Ireland finished third in the group on 13 points, three behind Denmark and four behind group winners Switzerland.
The last time Ireland reached the Euros
Ireland reached the 2016 European Championships in France following a 3-1 aggregate victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina in the play-off stages.
Many memorable moments were created at the tournament, chief among them a late Robbie Brady header that was enough to defeat Italy 1-0 and book a place in the knockout stages. Ireland had previously drawn 1-1 with Sweden and lost 3-0 to Belgium.
Ireland eventually bowed out to hosts and runners-up France in the last stage. An early Robbie Brady penalty was cancelled out by two Antoinne Griezmann goals.
History v Slovakia
The good news for Ireland is that we have never lost an international game to Slovakia before in five outings, drawing four and winning one.
The only positive outcome came in Croke Park in a 1-0 victory during a Euro 2008 qualification game, while the most recent clash finished in a 2-2 draw in 2016.
If Ireland are to qualify for Euro 2020, their unbeaten record against Slovakia will have to stand them in good stead before contesting the final.
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