Martin O’Neill admits he didn’t enjoy the draw for Euro 2016, which has seen his Republic of Ireland side handed a hugely difficult group.
Having negotiated their way to next summer’s Finals after beating Bosnia and Herzegovina in a playoff, the Irish were hoping for a relatively comfortably group as they look to progress to the knockout stages of a major tournament for the first time since the World Cup of 2002. Indeed, they have never made it through the group stages of a European Championships.
And it looks as though to make the last 16 in France will be something of an achievement next summer, after they were drawn in Group E alongside current world number one Belgium, one of the tournament favourites Italy, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden. Speaking after the draw was made, O’Neill admitted it couldn’t be much tougher for his team.
“I thought I was coming here to enjoy the draw and I’m not so sure that is the case anymore,” he said. “When you think about it Belgium are now one of the best sides in the world and a top quality side, and Italy should not really be in Pot 2. They are two absolutely top class sides and Sweden have Zlatan Ibrahimovic as well – and they are a sturdy side.
“It really couldn’t get tougher. Italy should be in Pot 1 (for the top seeds), they have not dropped down the rankings that much and Sweden are not just a one man team, they were quite strong in qualifying. Now we know who we are up against, we can study players individually. It is a bit of a maze but we’ll get down to plotting something.”
Ireland begin their campaign against the Swedes on Monday June 13, before taking on Belgium five days later. They complete the group fixtures against the Italians, who won the tournament for the only time back in 1968, on Wednesday June 22.