On Sunday Northern Ireland will learn their European Championships destiny as the draw is made in Warsaw for the 2012 competition which is being held in Poland and Ukraine.
Again, hopes will be high that the wait to see Northern Ireland in a major international tournament will come to an end having come so close to making it to the World Cup.
But it’s getting harder to qualify, so here I look at what Nigel Worthington’s best possible scenario could be.
EURO 2012 dream draw
FIRST SEEDS: I know George Best tortured the Dutch back in the late 1970s and had Johan Cruyff wanting the shirt off his back after the game and I’ve heard the story about the ‘Battle of Belfast’ in 1957 when we beat Italy in what ended up as a friendly before qualifying for the ‘58 World Cup ahead of them. But Northern Ireland haven’t faced either in a competitive fixture for as long as I can remember.
Therefore I’d love to see either of them at Windsor Park and I’m sure the Green and White Army would be there on mass if there was an away game in Amsterdam.
A trip to Moscow could be interesting, but anyone who was there for the Champions League final a couple of years ago might think differently.
I don’t care if we never play England again and as for Spain, I’d rather remember David Healy’s hat-trick.
Croatia blazed their way to the last European finals, but didn’t make it to the World Cup and look to have peaked so it might be a good time to play them.
McKinley’s choice: Croatia.
SECOND SEEDS: Five of the nine teams in this pot — Greece, Switzerland, Serbia, Denmark and Slovakia — have qualified for the World Cup, so let’s avoid them. Although if one does come out of the hat then bring them to Windsor Park as quickly as possible. I think teams coming off the back of a tournament are always vulnerable early on.
The Czechs are sure to be better than when we played them in the World Cup campaign and I’d never fancy playing Turkey no matter what. Romania? Not that keen on them either, because like the Turks they’re so unpredictable.
That leaves Sweden, who are going through transition and getting them early might be a good idea — oh yeah and we took four points off them the last time they were in our group.
McKinley’s choice: Sweden.
FOURTH SEEDS: Nobody who was in Cardiff will ever forget the highly dramatic 2-2 draw with Wales in September 2004. Playing them again doesn’t interest me though, as we haven’t beaten them since 1980.
Slovenia are the only team in this pot who are heading to the World Cup and although we played well enough to get something in Maribor and beat them at Windsor in the qualifiers it may be best to avoid them.
A lot of unpredictable teams in this section, not least Belarus, Macedonia and especially Cyrpus.
Belgium aren’t the team they were and might be there for the taking, but then again they might be about to bounce back. In a way I’d love to get them after Dick Advocaat pulled the plug on a friendly against Northern Ireland, allegedly because he didn’t think we were strong enough opponents, to show him how strong we can be. Funny we were strong enough to hammer them 3-0 in 1997 in probably the best friendly performance I can remember.
Latvia may have beaten us in Riga in September 2007, but a professional approach should ensure that was a one-off.
McKinley’s choice: Latvia.
FIFTH SEEDS: No need to even think about this one. We’re likely to struggle away to all but one of them, leaving Liechtenstein as the closest thing to a guaranteed six points as you’re going to get.
McKinley’s choice: Liechtenstein.
SIXTH SEEDS: We might not necessarily be in a six team group, but given that it would fill up two of the dates and do away with dreaded friendly matches I’d almost bite your hand off for one. We’re not good at friendlies.
Couple of banana skins in there too, so it’s between Andorra and San Marino. To be honest I’m not fussy, but it’d be nice to play someone different.
McKinley’s choice: Andorra.
Ideal group: Croatia, Sweden, Northern Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Andorra.
England: Let the memory of September 7, 2005 live forever and why risk having it wiped out by a defeat.
Slovakia: Once bitten and all that — well twice bitten actually.
I fancy them to do well at the World Cup and they are improving all the time, so no thanks to a re-match.
Cyprus: They’re as likely to win 4-0 as they are to lose 4-0 no matter who the opposition are. The fear would be they’d pull off the former against us.
Albania: Take your pick. Monenegro are in a false position.
Georgia, Moldova, Armenia and Kazakhstan are nightmare trips, but one trip to Albania is as much as any team deserves.
Azerbaijan: Easy one, worst trip possible and the most boring team we’ve played against in years.