All the coaches drawn in qualifying Group C were quick to point out that theirs is the only group containing three teams that will represent Europe in this summer's FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
Article top media content
The fact that three of the six teams drawn in qualifying Group C will first contest this summer's FIFA World Cup did not escape the notice of the respective coaches. Italy, Serbia and Slovenia will go into the autumn qualifiers after a tour of duty in South Africa, which is both testament to their quality and a possible advantage – in preparation terms – for the group's lesser lights.
Marcello Lippi, Italy coach
I think this is a well-balanced group. Like us, Serbia and Slovenia both qualified for the World Cup and that says everything about their strength and how dangerous they can be, even for the most famous teams. However, the most difficult group in my opinion is England's [Group G]. We will start thinking about that after the World Cup in South Africa.
Radomir Antić, Serbia coach
This group is very difficult. It is the only one with three World Cup qualifiers – Slovenia, Italy and Serbia. I am looking forward to playing Italy, a very competitive side who are always at a high level. Slovenia are an exciting team, while we played a friendly against Northern Ireland recently [winning 1-0 on 14 November] and they have a very young side under Nigel Worthington. The Faroe Islands and Estonia both play with pride. We have to believe in ourselves.
Nigel Worthington, Northern Ireland manager
I'm delighted with the draw. We're in a very tough group – we've got three teams who have qualified for the World Cup – but I'm excited. We played Italy in a friendly last year [Italy won 3-0 on 6 June], we played Serbia in a friendly in November, we've had Slovenia in our group in the World Cup qualifiers [Northern Ireland won at home but lost away] so we've got knowledge about those countries. Our team is very settled. We have a nice blend of youth and experience. We're in good shape, we've a good group and we can now plan our friendly fixtures.
Matjaž Kek, Slovenia coach
Our group has a lot of quality as it consists of three teams who will play at the World Cup. Northern Ireland are also strong, while Estonia and the Faroe Islands are unpredictable. We respect all our opponents but we will be highly motivated and go into it with big ambitions. We want to play at EURO 2012 – and to reach it we will have to be brave and work hard.
Tarmo Rüütli, Estonia coach
I was worried about the team from pot 1 – I didn't want Croatia in our group. It's definitely more interesting to play Italy and I'm sure the fans will love this draw. I'm also glad we have the Faroe Islands as it's very likely we will get all six points from the games against them. It will be another story against the other teams given that three have qualified for the World Cup in South Africa. Our main aim is not to finish last, but in football anything can happen.
Brian Kerr, Faroe Islands coach
The other countries will be looking at us and saying, 'Well, that is six points for us, an easy six points'. What we must do is make sure that nobody gets an easy game against us and that nobody gets an easy one point or three points. Let's see where that approach takes us.