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Spain lie in wait for NI if they win Windsor play-off final

 

Cheer we go: Michael O’Neill celebrates Northern Ireland scoring against Ukraine at Euro 2016
Cheer we go: Michael O’Neill celebrates Northern Ireland scoring against Ukraine at Euro 2016
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

The draw for the Euro 2020 finals take place this evening but there is already some certainty for Northern Ireland surrounding the prize on offer for play-off success.

Michael O'Neill's side finished third in their qualifying group behind Germany and Netherlands but that was good enough to earn a play-off semi-final against Bosnia & Herzegovinia in March 26.

If they win that match, they will host either the Republic of Ireland or Slovakia in the play-off decider at Windsor Park on Tuesday, March 31 for a place at Euro 2020.

The finals will be hosted by 12 countries and, in a bid to ensure all qualifying hosts enjoy home advantage, part of the draw has been pre-determined.

As a result, Northern Ireland (or the play-off winners) know that they will be placed in Group E alongside world number eight side Spain - one of the host nations.

More than that, the winners of the League B play-off structure already has a good idea of their play-off games.

The first two fixtures will be played, against as yet unknown opposition, in Dublin's Aviva Stadium on June 15 and June 19. That's because the Republic of Ireland is a host nation and, as a result, their potential place has been pre-determined.

The final group stage fixture will be played against Spain in Bilbao, where the top seeds will host all three of their group games, on June 24.

The remaining details - the other two teams the play-off winners will face in the groups - will be decided in this evening's draw, which takes place from 5pm.

Who else could Northern Ireland and the Republic face in the group stage?

So if we know the top seeds in Group E will be Spain and the bottom seeds with be the League B play-off winners, what about the other two teams?

Due to this prdetermined placing of the host nations, we can already narrow down the options.

The second seeds in the group will be one of: France, Poland, Switzerland and Croatia

The third seeds in the group will be either Portugal, Turkey, Austria, Sweden or the Czech Republic.

So based on the FIFA World Rankings, here are the dream and nightmare possibilities:

Best possible scenario: Spain, Poland, Czech Republic, Play-off winners. As well as avoiding two top 10 teams, the play-off victors would face a team currently below them in the world rankings in 45th placed Czech Republic.

Nightmare scenario: Spain, France, Portugal, Play-off winners. This would see the play-off winners pitted against the world number two side (France), number seven (Portugal) and number eight (Spain).

How many teams will progress from the group to the knockout stages?

Similar to Euro 2016, the 24 teams are split into six groups of four. The top two in each group will progress to the last 16. Those 12 teams will be joined by the top four third-placed teams from the six groups.

What else do we already know ahead of the draw?

The predetermined placings are:

Group A: Italy

Group B: Belgium, Russia, Denmark

Group C: Ukraine, Netherlands, Play-off A or D winners

Group D: England, Play-off C winners

Group E: Spain, Play-off B winners

Group F: Germany, Play-off A or D winners

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