EURO 2020 Qualifying When Mick McCarthy was appointed the manager of the Republic of Ireland football team last year for his second reign in charge of the team, his main goal was to qualify for the European Championships, taking place in June and July 2020 in a host of 12 different European cities including Dublin where the Aviva Stadium will be hosting 3 matches.
There was good vibe around the Irish camp in March when Mick came into manage his first two games in the Euro qualifiers in his second reign in charge of the boys in green. First up was an away game against Gibraltar on the artificial grass pitch of the Victoria Stadium. It was a frustrating game for Ireland due to the very windy conditions. They dominated possession but little chances were created until a wonderful strike from Jeff Hendrick found the back of the net just after half time to give Mick McCarthy’s Irishmen the 3 points. A positive style of play was on show in Dublin 3 days later in the Aviva stadium where the lads would take on Georgia in a tough game. Ireland played very well and came out with a well deserved 1-0 victory after a great team performance, from the back line in particular where captain Seamus Coleman played very well. The win was sealed thanks to an outstanding free kick from midfielder Conor Hourihane. The boys in green were top of group D with 6 points out of a possible 6 points after 2 games.
Although they were top of the group in June it was still early days as there was still 6 games left to play for Mick McCarthy’s lads. Next up was a crunch game with old foes Denmark, away in Copenhagen. Mick named a strong starting line-up including David McGoldrick who had become the main man up top and been playing well but had yet to score his first international goal.
The Danes dominated most of the game but Darren Randolph was a key factor between the sticks making multiple great saves. The Danish broke through with 15 minutes left as Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg put the ball past Randolph following a defensive error. But just 10 minutes later a great free kick from Alan Judge found the head of man of the match Shane Duffy who converted to rescue the point for Ireland in Denmark. James McClean was unlucky not to clinch a winner for Ireland in the dying seconds but he was denied by Danish goalkeeper, Kasper Schmeichel.
After a draw in Denmark 3 days earlier the boys in green were back in the Aviva Stadium to take on Gibraltar for the second time. EURO 2020 Qualifying The game was similar to the one in Gibraltar back in March but Ireland played better football and dominated the game with over 20 shots but could only find 2 goals thanks to an own goal from Joseph Chipolina and a last minute goal from Robbie Brady to win the game 2-0.
In September Ireland welcomed Switzerland to the Aviva Stadium for a very important tie. Ireland were still top of the group with 10 points and 4 matches left to play whilst the Swiss had 4 points with 2 games in hand. It was a game we couldn’t afford to lose! Switzerland were creating a lot of chances and Ireland struggled to retain possession. The 74th minute seen Fabian Schaer put the Swiss one up but with minutes left on the clock, David McGoldrick scored his first goal for his country, levelling the game. The game stayed the same and ended 1-1.
In October the boys in green needed to beat Georgia and Switzerland away to qualify for the euros with a game to spare. James Collins and young prospect Aaron Connolly got their first competitive games for Ireland but they couldn’t get on the scoresheet as a disappointing international break went by with a 0-0 draw in Georgia and a 2-0 defeat to Switzerland in which captain Seamus Coleman got sent off for an accidental hand ball. Darren Randolph came to the rescue to save the penalty but that still wasn’t enough. So it was all to play for in Dublin when the boys in green would take on Denmark in November.
Ireland knew they had to beat Denmark to qualify for the Euros and the Aviva was rocking with a sold out stadium. Ireland were dominating the game and had patches of very good play but just couldn’t find the net. The Danes couldn’t get any shots away until the 73rd minute when Martin Braithwaite got on the end of a cross to put the ball past Darren Randolph. Seamus Coleman’s replacement Matt Doherty was key to the game as he headed home the equaliser for Ireland with 5 minutes to go. Captain Shane Duffy moved from centre back to centre forward for the 4 minutes of injury time but to no avail. The Irish players were applauded by the impressive Irish crowd at full times for their efforts. They still hadn’t qualified for the Euros directly but Mick McCarthy praised his players for their hard work and fight throughout.
The Republic of Ireland can still qualify for Euro 2020 through the Playoff Path B System. On the 26th of March they will face Slovakia away in the Anton Malatinsky stadium in Trnava in a one leg semi- final. If they beat Slovakia they will play away against the winner of the Northern Ireland vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina game in the final to qualify for the Euros. If the Republic of Ireland win both their games and qualify they will face Spain, Sweden and Poland in their Euro group and will play Sweden and Poland at home in the Aviva Stadium, we will play Spain in the San Mames stadium in Bilbao.
The Boys in Green deserve credit for their fighting attitude to date. There’s been many positive to take from the campaign so far such as debutants introduced as well as the positive style of football being played.
All hopes now lie on our play-off games at the end of March!