Scotland will host Israel in the Euro 2020 qualifying play-offs next March while Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill could enjoy a Windsor Park farewell in a winner-takes-all clash against the Republic.
Those were the results of a draw conducted in Nyon on Friday morning as UEFA determined the pairings of the 16 teams in the hunt for the four remaining places at next summer’s finals.
Steve Clarke’s Scotland got a home draw against Israel, the side that finished fifth in Group G during regular qualifying.
Scotland faced Israel in last year’s Nations League, losing 2-1 away in October but winning the Hampden rematch 3-2 the following month, with both matches played before Clarke took over as head coach in May this year.
Should Scotland overcome Israel, they will travel to the winner of the other Path C semi-final between Norway and Serbia five days later.
Clarke said: “We played them in the Nations League group stage and hopefully we can get a positive start. I think they were two close games.
“It’d be nice to repeat the win at Hampden. Every game will come with its own level of pressure and that’s something we have to embrace.”
Asked whether the postponement of Ladbrokes Premiership games would help his team’s cause, Clarke added on Sky Sports News: “The longer you get to prepare your team, the better for everyone.
“There are hurdles to overcome, we will keep an open mind.”
It was already known that Northern Ireland will travel to Bosnia and Herzegovina while the Republic of Ireland are away to Slovakia but Friday’s draw determined the location of the final in Path B.
And the draw offered a carrot to O’Neill, confirming that either Northern Ireland or Bosnia will host the final, setting up the possibility of a match against the Republic at Windsor Park and another home farewell for the outgoing manager following last Saturday’s goalless draw with Holland.
O’Neill, who was appointed Stoke boss earlier this month, plans to remain in charge for the play-offs alongside his new duties.
It was notable he stopped short of an outright confirmation during the international break, saying “that’s the plan at the minute” while also claiming it would be “dead easy” to juggle his national team duties with his new club job.
But, aware of continuing questions on the matter, Irish FA chief executive Patrick Nelson spoke after the draw and once again reiterated O’Neill will be in the dugout next March.
“We had some great (contract) negotiations with Stoke City and with Michael and as part of Michael leaving the IFA we have agreed that Michael will be in charge for any play-off games that we have,” Nelson said.
Nelson did not wish to be drawn on a possible all-Ireland clash in Belfast, however.
“Our target is to make it to UEFA Euro 2020,” he said. “That’s the one target we have.
“We have to get past Bosnia and Herzegovina on the 26th of March and we are delighted that if we do that we’ve got a home final, against either Slovakia or the Republic of Ireland.
“We are very experienced at hosting games at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. We will prepare very thoroughly both on the field and off the field and if we are hosting a game on the 31st of March it will be a great occasion.”
Republic boss Mick McCarthy already has a significant carrot on offer, of course, with Dublin set to host four games next summer.
“Somebody said to me the other day: ‘You know, Mick, the country’s right behind you, you’ve got to do it for the country’. I thought, ‘Yes, I know I have’,” McCarthy said.
“Nothing extra could make me want to win a game of football, to be quite honest. That’s for me personally. But for the nation, for Ireland, it does mean a lot more, of course.”
In Path A, Hungary will travel to Bulgaria, with the winner hosting either Iceland or Romania in the final.
In Group D, it was determined that the winner of the semi-final between Georgia and Belarus will host the final against either North Macedonia or Kosovo.
The semi-finals will take place on March 26, with the finals on March 31.
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