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Minnows have chance in new Euro vision

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Ireland's Robbie Brady. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Ireland's Robbie Brady. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Ireland's Robbie Brady. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Of course, the Republic of Ireland are not the only country fighting for their European Championship lives next Thursday. Northern Ireland travel to Sarajevo to play Bosnia in one of seven other ties that will lead to four teams eventually playing at next summer's spectacular.

And if Stephen Kenny's team get past Slovakia, they will have to travel to Belfast or Sarajevo for the play-off decider in November.

It is interesting that Northern Ireland are playing in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo.

When Ireland travelled to Bosnia for the Euro 2016 play-off, Martin O'Neill's team travelled to a small stadium in the city of Zenica for the game, where Robbie Brady's away goal was to be a huge help in getting Ireland into those Finals.

Usually these play-offs are contested by teams like Ireland, who are sometimes good enough to get straight through to a Finals, but who are not always able to do so.

Countries like France, Spain and Germany are rarely found in the play-offs and nor are the minnows of European football.

However, in a change insisted upon by UEFA President Alexander Ceferin, one of this year's play-offs is reserved for 'lesser' sides with Georgia at home to Belarus and North Macedonia playing Kosovo this week. The two winners will meet and the victor in that game will be there next summer.

In normal circumstances, you would fancy Georgia, who would play both games in front of a really passionate home crowd in Tbilisi, to come through.

When Ireland played there 13 months ago, the Georgians already knew they had this play-off place in the bag.

Very few fans came to the qualifier. They were all waiting for the play-off match - it was everything they were planning for.

The two matches were supposed to be played last March, but now Vladimir Weiss's team finally get their chance to got to a first Finals in the country history.

Strongest

Another play-off sees Norway at home to Serbia and Scotland taking on Israel with the Norway-Serbia victors at home in the Final.

The Serbs would look to be the strongest team of the four with their top players, like Nemanja Matic (Manchester United), Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Lazio) and Aleksander Kolarov (Inter Milan) dotted around Europe's best clubs.

Certainly, if they win their first match, you'd fancy Serbia to see off Scotland or Israel with home advantage.

The last play-off place has Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary all parachuted into a play-off against Iceland, the only top seed in the last Nations League who are not already qualified for the Euros.

Bulgaria will host Hungary and the winner of that will be at home to Iceland or Romania in the Final.

Euro 2020 play-offs

Group A

Bulgaria v Hungary

Iceland v Romania

Group B:

Bosnia-Herz v N Ireland

Slovakia v Republic of Ireland

Group C

Norway v Serbia

Scotland v Israel

Group D

Georgia v Belarus*

North Macedonia v Kosovo

  • All games next Thursday at 7.45pm except * at 5.0pm