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A pain in the arsenal
Sol Campbell has been one of the Gunner's best performers, but that doesn't excuse his recent disappearing act. Meanwhile, things could finally be looking up for Ireland fans. The Republic have every chance of qualifying for Euro 2008.
Tony Cascarino, 13 Feb 2006
Steve Staunton was a little bit coy in his reaction to the draw for the Euro 2008 qualifiers, but I think he’ll have come away from Montreaux delighted that there’s no really outstanding team in Ireland’s group.
The Czech Republic are nowhere near as strong as they were a few years ago when they had Pavel Nedved running things in midfield, and you’ll probably have a few more of their older, experienced players retiring after the World Cup.
It’s also by their standards a very average German side who won’t relish playing in front of a full house at Croke Park. From Ireland’s point of view, though, there’s a definite feelgood factor to be gained from the increased capacity and sense of occasion that’ll come from our home games being in Croker.
Another plus is that there are no long, energy-sapping trips to the Ukraine or Azerbaijan, or ‘Welcome To Hell’ scenarios. All of the teams are known quantities that Steve and Sir Bobby can nip over and see whenever they want.
They’ll also get a good sense of Germany and the Czech Republic’s strengths and weaknesses from how they perform in the World Cup. From what I’ve seen of them, they’re both big, physical teams who could be vulnerable to the likes of Robbie Keane and Damien Duff running at them at pace.
Most the talk’s been about the Germans and the Czechs, but Slovakia are a very useful side who registered six wins and five draws in their World Cup qualifying group, including a highly credible 1-1 against Portugal. They’re just as liable to nick points off the others as they are us, so you could end up with the Slovaks as power brokers.
As for the rest of the group – Wales don’t have the young players coming through to be a real threat, Cyprus are okay until the first goal goes in and then they crumble, and San Marino are only significant in terms of boosting your goal average.
If Steve goes into the qualifiers confident of who his best 11 players are, there’s no reason why we can’t grab second spot or even win the group.