Gareth McAuley has said that Northern Ireland will be looking for “revenge” should they end up playing the Republic of Ireland in a Euro 2020 playoff in March.
Windsor Park could host a playoff between the two teams on the island on March 31, 2020. If Ireland get past Slovakia, and Northern Ireland beat Bosnia-Herzegovina, then the two teams will face off in Belfast for a place at Euro 2020.
It has the potential to be a dramatic showdown and, according to a former Northern Ireland international, it represents a chance for “revenge” for his old team.
“It would be the perfect retort to smug UEFA and the Republic of Ireland by qualifying for the Euro finals at their expense,” McAuley wrote in a column for The Belfast Telegraph.
“It still grates on the me that Northern Ireland were thrown into a Euro qualifying group with Germany and the Netherlands when it was the Republic, who were initially drawn out with those footballing giants. But because they have a little bit extra money and a better stadium, with UEFA selecting the Aviva Stadium as one of the hosts for the finals next year, they managed to dodge a bullet. Totally unfair.
“The Republic were then drawn with Switzerland and Denmark as their top seeds and having played against the Swiss in the 2018 World Cup play-offs and kept a close eye on the Danes, the way Michael O’Neill had us playing during this qualifying campaign, I believe we would have done very well in the Republic’s group and probably qualified automatically for the finals.”
The former West Brom defender also wrote that the match would be a “chance to right a wrong” for Northern Ireland after they were landed in a more difficult qualification group at Ireland’s expense. Mick McCarthy’s team were originally placed in a group alongside the Netherlands and Germany.
However, as more than two tournament host nations could not be put in the same group, Ireland were moved into the group containing Denmark, Switzerland, Georgia and Gibraltar.
McAuley, who won 80 caps for Northern Ireland and scored for them at Euro 2016, also predicted that the home fans at Windsor Park would not sing sectarian songs should the two teams end up playing each other.
“Obviously there are fears it could be volatile,” McAuley wrote.
“But I honestly believe the majority of our fans will be too busy supporting our players and focused on the game to worry about degrading the opposition.
“Anyway, our fans have enough brilliant songs in their repertoire that they don’t need to reduce themselves to singing sectarian nonsense, which will only overshadow the entire spectacle.”
Ireland hosted Northern Ireland in November 2018 in a friendly at the Aviva Stadium, a match that finished goalless. A play-off final between the teams would undoubtedly be a significantly more intense affair. The nation that qualifies from Playoff Path B – Ireland, Northern Ireland, Bosnia or Slovakia – will play two Euro 2020 group games in Dublin next summer.
However, Ireland and Northern Ireland must navigate tricky away ties before thinking about any opportunity for “revenge” or a place at Euro 2020.