Top seeds the Republic of Ireland were placed alongside Russia, Switzerland, Georgia and Albania in Group 10 when the draw for EURO 2004™ was made in Porto on Friday.
Ireland manager Mick McCarthy was philosophical about his sides chances of progressing to their first UEFA European Championship finals since 1988, saying: “There is nothing that we can do about the draw. We are happy to be playing anyone, but just because we are top seeds, it does not mean that the group becomes any easier for us.”
‘Hardest of the bottom seeds’
In reference to Albania and Georgia, McCarthy added: “I look at the weaker teams and we have certainly drawn the hardest of the bottom seeds.”
‘Strong and balanced’
Swiss coach Jakob Kuhn reflected McCarthy’s view that Group 10 would be far from easy to emerge from when qualifying begins in the autumn, commenting: “This is a very strong and balanced group. We know it will be hard, there are always two sides to it, and there will be some very, very difficult games,” although Kuhn went on to add: “But everything is possible in our group, and of course we have to have confidence in ourselves if we want to qualify."
We meet again
Switzerland have not made it through to the finals of a major tournament since EURO 96™ and the team have struggled since being ranked as the third-best team in the world by FIFA in 1994. Not only that, but blocking their path to Portugal will be old foes Russia, whom they lost to twice in attempting to qualify for the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Viacheslav Koloskov, president of the Football Union of Russia (RFS), believes that there is all to play for, claiming: "It is a very interesting group, not financially, but in footballing terms. Four teams from the five have a good chance of winning the group. Georgia have produced some of the greatest footballers in Europe. I don't think there is any political aspect to the game. People will go to Tbilisi and Moscow to watch a football match, not a war."
And Russia will be desperately keen to make it through to the competition proper come 2004, especially because of the way in which they were denied participitation for EURO 2000™ when a last-minute Andriy Shevchenko goal for Ukraine denied them automatic qualification to the Low Countries. Ireland, Switzerland, Georgia and Albania will all be able to check on Russia’s form at this summer’s World Cup in Korea/Japan.
‘A high caliber’
Aleksandr Chivadze, the new Georgian coach, appeared disappointed with the strength of opposition awaiting his team. "Ireland are going to compete in the World Cup, while Switzerland are a high calibre team with a new coach, and Albania have always proved to be a tough opponent for us. And what about playing Russia? I have no comment."
‘I still am optimistic’
Georgian national team captain Georgi Nemsadze, of Dundee FC, added: "Our group looks very balanced. Ireland and Russia did very well in World Cup qualification, and Switzerland of course are also a good European team. We also will meet Albania for the third campaign in ten years. This is not the worst group we could get, although every game will be tough. I still am optimistic about the draw."
Georgia, looking to compete at the finals of a major competition for the very first time in their history, will be looking forward to their two clashes with Albania, whom they clashed with twice in the qualifying rounds for EURO 2000™, although the Albanians should not be underestimated, standing at 94th in the FIFA world rankings. However, Albania’s new coach, Sulejman Demoralli, has a 100 per cent losing record to date and his side has yet to score a goal either under his stewardship.
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