> The draw for UEFA’s World Cup playoffs took place on Monday night with several interesting ties served up.
The 8 best group runners-up qualified for the playoffs draw with Russia, France, Portugal, Greece, Ukraine, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Ireland entering into the pot.
UEFA had somewhat controversially decided to split the pot in two, with the former aforementioned four nations seeded with respect to the current FIFA rankings.
And the draw for the matches to be played on November 14 & 18, went as follows; Republic of Ireland v France Portugal v Bosnia-Herzegovina Greece v Ukraine Russia v Slovenia
Republic of Ireland v France
*Les Bleus *battled through Group 7 after a slow start, but superstars like Franck Ribery and Thierry Henry ultimately scored some crucial goals and got the French this far, while the Irish went unbeaten in Group 8 but now face the 1998 world champions.
And France are reasonably happy with their draw, with FFF technical director Gerard Houllier saying, “Ireland are competitive and tricky to play but we must not overrate them.
“It’s a slight advantage to play the return leg at home but the first leg is often the most important one because it either gives you confidence or ruins your hopes.”
On the other hand, Football Association of Ireland chief executive John Delaney wasn’t too downbeat about the draw, claiming on Irish radio, “I’ve spoken to the manager, Giovanni Trapattoni, he’s quite relaxed about it.
“We don’t lose games on many goals, we don’t win games on many goals. I wouldn’t expect that pattern to change.”
Portugal v Bosnia-Herzegovina
Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portuguese finally pipped Sweden for second in Group 1 after a less than impressive campaign, while Bosnia-Herzegovina scored bucketloads of goals as they chase their first ever spot in a World Cup finals.
Portugal boss Carlos Queiroz admitted he felt the unheralded Bosnians would be tough, “Reputation has no weight or significance in these circumstances. We have to prepare well to play against an excellent side that has a very dangerous attack.”
And Bosnian boss Miroslav Blazevic played down his sides chances although he remained coy by saying, “To be honest, I think the Portuguese are favourites. But it is not always the favourites that win.”
Greece v Ukraine
Euro 2004 winners Greece drew 2006 World Cup quarter-finalists Ukraine in perhaps the most even tie of the lot. Most of the seeds feared Ukraine, runners-up in Group 6, while most of the non-seeds had eyes on a tie with the Greeks.
Indeed, Ukraine boss Alexei Mikhailichenko said, “I think it was a good draw but we’ll know for sure after the matches. If we win, that will mean that it was a good draw after all. Greece are very strong at home because their fans are amazing.” Interestingly, Greece will play the first-leg in Heraklion, not Athens.
Mikhailichenko added, “We take a lot of inspiration from our magnificent performance of four years ago.”
Greek national technical director Panagiotis Fyssas commented, “There are no easy teams, so I can’t complain about our luck in the draw. We played Ukraine twice in the Germany 2006 qualifiers so we know them and they know us.”
For the record, in the 2006 World Cup qualifiers, Greece claimed a 1-1 draw in Kiev, before Ukraine won 1-0 in Piraeus.
Russia v Slovenia
Guus Hiddink’s highly-fancied Russians have drawn Group 3 runners-up Slovenia in a tie which seems destined to go only one way.
Slovenia, though, have produced playoffs shocks in the past, qualifying for Euro 2000 and the 2002 World Cup defeating Ukraine and Romania respectively.
Nevertheless, Slovenia coach Matjaz Kek said, “Russia are clear favourites in our two matches and I am worried about the conditions we will have in Russia.”
Head of the Russian Football Federation, Alexei Sorokin said, “There were no weak opponents in the draw but now I believe we can clinch a place in the finals.”
Although Russian national team player Alexander Kerzhakov was less diplomatic when he stated, “We’ve got a favourable draw. I don’t know much about Slovenian team but I think we managed to avoid a bigger challenge.”