When the Republic of Ireland were drawn in the dreaded Group C alongside Germany and The Netherlands today, the draw looked mission impossible for the draw hosts but thankfully given the host country status, Republic of Ireland were moved to Group D and renewing familiar acquaintances with Denmark, Georgia, Gibraltar and Switzerland. A competitive group but one that looks a bit better on paper than what Northern Ireland have to deal in Group C. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the draw.
Group A: England stroll
Nothing here to unduly worry England in this group. Kosovo should spring a couple of surprise results against their Eastern European rivals but this is a group setup for England to further experiment and use it to blood more underage prospects into the national squad. England to top the group and a toss up for the second placed berth.
Group B: Competitive
Take the minnows Lithuania and Luxembourg and this is a very competitive group. Portugal will look to be the favorites to the top the group but Serbia and Ukraine will pose problems for the Iberian side. Serbia disappointed in the World Cup 2018 and Ukraine will look to continue their good form in the League of Nations tournament. Will Serbia and Ukraine take points off each other and in doing so give Portugal a distinct advantage? I think this scenario may play out.
Group C: Northern Ireland unlucky
A group containing Germany and The Netherlands now faces Northern Ireland, an unfortunate chain of events given that it was the Republic of Ireland who were slotted in this group originally. NI will be well organized but they are up against it with two heavyweights opponents. Estonia and Belarus complete the group, little threat to the top three. Will NI shock a vulnerable Germany at Windsor Park to make this group interesting? Here is hoping.
Group D: Acquaintances renewed
Denmark and Republic of Ireland supporters will be sick of the sight of each other by the end of this campaign. Denmark have made their feelings known about the Republic’s style of play so it will be interesting to see what Mick McCarthy conjures up in this campaign. Switzerland look a solid bet to advance from the group; good squad core and with Xhaka and Shaqiri in good form, Switzerland will be tough opposition. Georgia are a dangerous fourth seed here; their recent form and ability to give opposition tough games in Tbilisi setting up an intriguing group. Throw Gibraltar into the mix as cannon fodder and this group looks like it will go down to the wire.
Group E: Croatia look the class act
A group which should produce plenty of easy football on the eye. Croatia and Wales will fancy their chances of progression but with a Slovakia side who will be competitive at home, a couple of surprising results could surface. Hungary and Azerbaijan look limited and should fall away quickly from this group.
Group F: Spain to top this pool
Spain look the class apart in this group. Enrique and the playing squad are gradually putting behind a shambolic World Cup 2018 behind them and this pool will offer a further chance for the side to build momentum and form. The second place berth looks interesting as Sweden, Romania and rejuvenated Norway will have merits for playoff progression. Faroe Islands complete the group and perhaps may nick a point or two from their Scandinavian brethren.
Group G: Poland will be happy
Poland will be delighted with this group and should top the group. The chasing pack looks compelling with the likes of Austria, Israel and Slovenia in a three way battle for playoff progression. Macedonia potentially will provide away blues for teams in Skopje but their squad depth will hinder progress. Latvia look cannon fodder.
Group H: Routine for Le Bleu
France will be not losing much sleep on this group setup. Iceland will provide physicality and strong threat in the set piece but were well exposed in top seed opposition this year. Turkey or Albania may be poised to be the second place side in this group. Turkey are well overdue a tournament appearance. The other teams in this group are Andorra and Moldova, recent form indicates a slow painful group phase for both.
Group I: Interesting Lineup
Belgium the perennial team that tipsters will look for major tournament glory will be relatively satisfied with this lineup. Russia after an excellent World Cup 2018 were inconsistent in the League of Nations action. Scotland have improved under Alex McLeish so the group looks evenly poised. Cyprus in Nicosia have never be taken likely either and could nick points from Russia and Scotland in particular. San Marino and Kazakhstan look out of their depth in this group.
Group J: Italy rebuild to continue
A nice group for Italy to rebuild. The opposition will up their game against the Azzuri but Italy should advance as top dog in this group. Greece, Bosnia-Herzegovina will probably fight it out for second spot with Finland looking to push their weight around given their recent upturn in form. Armenia away could be a tough task for all sides as well so the fight for playoff progression looks the intriguing headline in this group. Liechtenstein have improved but they look outgunned in this class of opposition.