Under the guidance of Mick McCarthy, the Rep Of Ireland will be determined to qualify for Euro 2020. Indeed the Irish will be one of twelve hosts in the championship. In Group D, McCarthy’s charges will face Switzerland, Denmark, Georgia and Gibraltar. Two teams will qualify for the tournament in the summer of 2020. There is the possibility of the third place team going through if they get enough points. How difficult will the challenge be for Ireland? We take a look at the opponents in the group and possible strengths and weaknesses.
The Danes are the only country in this group that have won the Euros. It was Euro 92 when the Vikings of Denmark conquered Europe. According to FIFA, the Danes are currently the 10th best team in the world. They have a number of talented players in their ranks. Simon Kjaer is the captain and is having a fantastic season at Sevilla in Spain. He is the glue that keeps the Danes miserly at the back. Another player that is having a great season is Dortmund’s, Thomas Delaney. The midfielder was signed in the summer and has slotted seamlessly into the Bundesliga leaders midfield.
Pione Sisto is a real livewire. The Celta winger is elusive and is capable of carving open defences with his trickery and pace. Their keyman, however, is no doubt Christian Eriksen. The Spurs maestro is the guy that makes the Danes tick. He is capable of taking a game by the scruff of its neck and has an eye for goal.
Upfront the Danes can be toothless. Against teams that are well organised and frustrate, they lack a striker who can score consistently. Looking at their four main strikers, Nicolai Jorgensen has scored nine goals in 38 caps, Yussuf Poulsen five goals in 36 caps, Martin Braithwaite has managed three goals in 29 caps and young Ajax striker Kasper Dolberg has scored one goal in 10 caps.
Of course, Ireland need no introduction having played the Danes four times since 2017. One of those games was the famous 5-1 defeat in Dublin which saw the Danes go to the World Cup in Russia. However, despite the Danes being a clear thorn in the side of the Irish, all the other fixtures ended in 0-0 draws. I suspect the fixtures between both nations will go a long way in deciding who qualifies on this occasion.
Georgia have never qualified for the Euros. They are currently the 89th best team in the world according to the FIFA rankings. The Rep Of Ireland have played the Georgians on nine occasions, winning eight and drawing once. That said both sides met in the last qualifying campaign for the World Cup. In Dublin, Ireland were fortunate to win 1-0 in a game where Georgia largely dominated, they were just lacking belief and a cutting edge. In Tbilisi, Georgia secured a 1-1 draw in the corresponding fixture.
Georgia are a very dangerous opponent and will no doubt take points off the so-called bigger teams. In the recent Nations League, the eastern Europeans were unbeaten with the highlight being a 3-0 win in Latvia. Crucially they possess a very young squad with at least 14 players aged 25 or younger. Clearly, the potential is there for improvement.
Technically they are a side that like to pass the ball around and boast a number of young players with potential. The pick of the bunch is 19-year-old attacking midfielder Giorgi Chakvetadze. The Gent player is tipped to move to a biggerEuropeann league soon. In his short international career the youngster has scored five goals in seven caps, an impressive record indeed.
Though improving, some of their weaknesses are in defensive areas and in particular regarding concentration. This is largely down to a lack of belief as a nation with no real history of winning and their tender age. Though unlikely to qualify it will be very difficult to take six points from the Georgians.
Ranked at 194 not much is expected of Gibraltar. As a nation, they made their footballing debut in 2013 in what was a very respectable 0-0 draw with Slovakia in Faro, Portugal. Gibraltar have played a lot of their home fixtures in Portugal, however, they played all of their home games in the Nations League in Gibraltar.
The Irish will travel to the 2,000 capacity Victoria stadium to take on the hosts in the March of 2019. Ultimately if Gibraltar take any points in this group it will be considered a major shock. The majority of the nation’s players play in Gibraltar itself. This will be a major weakness as the standard is poor.
Their most famous player if you can call it that is Liam Walker. The Europa player is the countries most capped player with just 35 caps. There has been a lot of controversy over the inclusion of the nation in the past. To be fair they did manage to win in Armenia and beat Liechtenstein at home in the Nations League.
Finally but far from least are the Swiss. Seeded first in the draw and ranked at number eight in the world, they are the clear favourites to win this group. In the 2016 tournament in France, Switzerland managed to get to the last 16, their best ever finish at the Euros.
In the previous 16 meetings between both nations, the Rep Of Ireland have held the upper hand. Winning eight, losing five and drawing three times. The Red Crosses, however, have always been more comfortable with the underdogs tag. It will be interesting to see how they deal with the dynamic of been favorites.
The Swiss are a well-balanced team with a good mixture of experience and youth. They have a strong mentality and are a physically strong side. 23-year-old Manuel Akanji is a huge presence at the back. The Dortmund player is having a fantastic season in Germany. Denis Zakaria, Edimilson Fernandes and Djibril Sow have injected much needed youth to the side.
Then you have Premier League stars such as Xherdan Shaqiri who gives them that bit of flair in the final third and also Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka who is having his best season at the club. Not to forget Milan’s impressive left-back Ricardo Rodriguez and you soon get a sense of the quality Switzerland possess.
No doubt this will be a group that will prove difficult for the Irish. The Danes and in particular the Swiss have simply got better players all-round. However, if the Republic can find that spark, lost in the last year or so I would give them a fighting chance. McCarthy’s men are capable of taking advantage of any possibly slip-ups.