How will the home nations fare in the Euro 2020 qualifying play-offs?
Scotland will host Israel in the Euro 2020 qualifying play-offs next March while outgoing Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill could enjoy a Windsor Park farewell in a winner-takes-all clash against the Republic.
To set that up, Northern Ireland would first have to win their semi-final away against Bosnia while the Republic need to get through a trip to Slovakia.
The play-off semi-finals will be played on March 26 and the finals on March 31.
Here the PA news agency takes a look at each side’s chances of progressing to next summer’s tournament.
Scotland will start at home to Israel, with the winners facing an away trip to face either Norway or Serbia in the final five days later. Scotland have won four of their five meetings with Israel, but three of those took place in 1986 or earlier. The more relevant two came in last year’s Nations League and suggest the home draw could be crucial for Steve Clarke’s men. They suffered a 2-1 defeat away in October but won the home match 3-2 at Hampden Park a month later, with both matches played before Clarke replaced Alex McLeish. A tougher challenge would await away from home in a final, given Serbia are ranked 33rd in the world by FIFA and Norway 45th, compared with Scotland’s ranking of 53rd.
Republic of Ireland
The Republic face a trip to Slovakia in their semi, and will be on the road again should they advance, either heading to Belfast to face Northern Ireland or going east to face Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Republic have never lost to Slovakia in five previous meetings, but have only one win to their name, a 1-0 victory back in 2007 when Kevin Doyle’s early goal gave Steve Staunton’s side a Euro 2008 qualifying win at Croke Park. Four draws have followed, three in qualifiers and the most recent a 2-2 friendly draw at the Aviva Stadium in 2016. More recent form finds little to separate the two, with both teams taking 13 points from their eight Euro 2020 qualifiers. The Republic were frustrated as they drew their final game 1-1 with Denmark when a win in Dublin would have put them through, while Slovakia’s chances of advancing directly were already over before their 2-0 win over Azerbaijan.
Northern Ireland travel to Zenica in March to face Bosnia, with the carrot of a home final on offer. Northern Ireland have lost their only two previous meetings with Bosnia, both last year in the Nations League as they went down 2-1 in Belfast and 2-0 in Sarajevo. But there was some reason for hope. Those defeats both came during a punishing campaign in which O’Neill’s new-look side took their licks playing a more possession-based style. They lost at Windsor despite having 26 shots at goal to Bosnia’s five, while they hit the post three times in Sarajevo. Results improved considerably during the qualifying campaign, and their points-to-games ratio was better than Bosnia’s. Should it come down to an all-Ireland final the match would be hard to call. The Republic have the better record, having won four and drawn five of their 11 meetings – the most recent a goalless friendly draw in Dublin last year – but Northern Ireland would hope Windsor Park could tip the balance.