Belfast Telegraph

Mick McCarthy relishing 'interesting' potential clash between Northern Ireland and Republic for Euro 2020 spot

 

Mick McCarthy knows his Republic of Ireland side will only go into Group E at the Euro 2020 finals if they win their play-off path in March
Mick McCarthy knows his Republic of Ireland side will only go into Group E at the Euro 2020 finals if they win their play-off path in March
Michael O'Neill

By Steven Beacom

Republic of Ireland boss Mick McCarthy has likened the draw for the group stages of the Euro 2020 finals to the old ITV quiz show Bullseye - and anyone connected with Northern Ireland will know exactly what he means.

On Saturday in Bucharest, Northern Ireland were placed in the same group as Spain, Poland and Sweden but they will only play those nations in June if Michael O'Neill's men come through the play-offs in March.

It's the same for McCarthy's Republic who could end up facing O'Neill's Northern Ireland at Windsor Park in an eagerly anticipated play-off final on March 31.

To make that happen Northern Ireland must win their semi-final away to Bosnia & Herzegovina on March 26 and the Republic have to do likewise in Slovakia.

While the Republic are amongst many hosts for the tournament, Northern Ireland fans would have the shortest trip possible for two of the group games because the matches against Poland and Sweden would be in Dublin.

Steven Davis and co would start with the Poles, who beat them 1-0 in the Euro 2016 group stages, at the Aviva stadium on Monday, June 15 and then Sweden would be the opponents at the same ground on Friday, June 19. The final group game would see the Green and White Army travel to Bilbao on Wednesday, June 24 for a contest with Spain.

The Republic, or Bosnia and Slovakia come to that, would face the same schedule.

So many ifs, buts and maybes led McCarthy to make the humorous comparison with the popular darts based show Bullseye when contestants would be shown what the top prize was even if they didn't win it.

"I was looking at the draw and it was like this is what you could have won or what you could be guaranteed doing but we are not there yet," said McCarthy.

On a more serious tone, McCarthy added that he would take a derby final in Belfast right now.

"We have the hardest route. We have Slovakia away and if we win that we then play the winners of Northern Ireland and Bosnia which should be interesting," McCarthy said.

"I'm sure a lot of people want it to be Northern Ireland versus the Republic.

"That would be an interesting game if it turns out that way.

"I'll settle for that because I would love to get to the second game."

McCarthy leaves the Republic manager's job when their Euro 2020 campaign is over be that at the play-off stage or the finals. The ex-Wolves, Ipswich, Sunderland and Millwall boss would be keen to return to club football.

Michael O'Neill is already there with Stoke City but will take charge of his country in March and the players want him to be the boss at the finals should Northern Ireland get there.

The 50-year-old will have taken note of the Euro 2020 draw but right now is focused on struggling Stoke, who on Saturday lost their second league game in a row under O'Neill going down 2-1 at home to Blackburn Rovers.

Of much more importance Stoke striker Benik Afobe, on a season long loan deal with Bristol City, announced yesterday that his family is "devastated and heartbroken" after his two-year-old daughter Amora died on Friday.

"Amora was taken to hospital for treatment after unexpectedly developing a severe infection," a statement said.

"Unfortunately she then suffered a number of serious complications and, despite doctors doing absolutely everything that they could, Amora passed away peacefully with the love of her family by her side."

The draw pitted England against their World Cup semi-final conquerors Croatia, plus the Czech Republic and the winner of the play-off series featuring Scotland.

England will play all their three group games at Wembley, and if they top Group D they would play the runner-up from Group F - far and away the toughest-looking pool - in Dublin.

Second place would put England up against the runner-up from Group E, which contains Spain, Poland, Sweden and a play-off winner, possibly Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland.

Wales face Switzerland, Turkey and group favourites Italy.

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