Euro 2024: Northern Ireland’s worst possible draw for the next qualifying campaign

Northern Ireland’s dismal Nations League results have seen Ian Baraclough’s side fall into pot five in next Sunday’s Euro 2024 qualifying draw in Frankfurt.

This means Northern Ireland will have four higher-ranked nations in their qualifying group for the tournament.

That doesn’t mean – as Michael O’Neill has proved – that qualifying for Germany is impossible. Northern Ireland qualified for Euro 2016 from pot five, finishing ahead of higher-ranking nations Greece, Finland, Hungary and Finland.

But just like this season, the draw will be crucial to Northern Ireland’s chances. Here we look at the Windsor Park team’s nightmare draw for Euro 2024 and the dream draw that could give the underperforming team a chance.

The top two teams in each of the ten groups, along with the three Nations League play-off winners, will advance to the finals alongside the host country. The draw will take place on Sunday 9th October.

NIGHTMARE DRAW

Spain

It’s hard for Northern Ireland fans not to be overcome with nostalgia when the name Spain comes up.

The 1-0 win at Valencia at the 1982 World Cup is undoubtedly the best result in Northern Ireland’s history, while the David Healy-inspired 3-2 win in 2006 is perhaps the best international ever played in Belfast.

But following Sunday’s draw, Northern Ireland are unwilling to work with Luis Enrique’s side. Teenage midfielders Pedri and Gavi look like reincarnations of Xavi and Iniesta, while Ansu Fati is one of the most exciting young strikers in the world.

Even if Northern Ireland draw Spain or one of the other Nations League finalists – Croatia, Italy and the Netherlands – Ian Baraclough’s side are guaranteed to be bottom in a five-team group.

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France

The reigning world champions lurk in pot two thanks to some disappointing results in the Nations League.

But don’t let a few disappointing performances against Denmark and Croatia fool you, Didier Deschamps’ side are packed with world-class players including Real Madrid newcomer Eduardo Camavinga and PSG superstar Kylian Mbappe.

Northern Ireland will also be keen to avoid Pot 2 England with their galaxy of Premier League stars.

Norway

Erling Haaland may only be 22 years old, but he has already established himself as one of the best strikers in world football. At international level, he has scored 21 goals in 23 caps, including a brace against Baraclough’s Northern Ireland in a 5-1 win at Windsor Park in 2020.

Northern Ireland will be keen to avoid the powerful striker, who will be joined at international level by Alexander Sørloth and Martin Ødegaard.

In pot three, the Windsor Park team also wants to avoid Norway’s Scandinavian neighbors Sweden.

Turkey

Despite being humiliated by the Faroe Islands earlier this week, Turkey remain a talented side who sauntered into promotion from Nations League C and scored 18 goals in six games.

It would be an intimidating away game for Northern Ireland. Stefan Kuntz’s side have had a great home record, having lost just one competitive game in Turkey in the last four years.

Other pot-four nations to avoid include old opponents Greece – who beat Northern Ireland home and away in the Nations League – and an exciting young Georgia side.

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DREAM DRAWING

Hungary

Over the past six years, Hungary have earned a reputation as the colossal killer of international football.

In June they beat England 4-0 at Molineux, while last week they defeated Germany 1-0 in Leipzig. However, they failed to qualify for this year’s World Cup and are not on the same level as other pot-one nations like Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy.

There is no single draw in Pot One, but one of Hungary, Poland or Switzerland offers Northern Ireland the best chance of points.

Israel

Israel was the Nations League B surprise package. Alon Hazan’s team won Group Two with an unbeaten record to earn promotion to League A and a spot in Pot Two.

But that only tells half the story. After Russia was banned from football, Israel’s group consisted of only two other teams – Albania and Iceland. With Iceland drawing all four games, two wins against Albania were enough to propel Israel into League A.

It is fair to say that there is a big gap in Standard between the best teams in Pot 2 – England and France – and the weakest, Israel and Finland.

Albania

Like Israel, Albania’s Nations League standings benefited from Russia’s elimination from the tournament.

Despite failing to win a Nations League B game, the Albanians avoided relegation as their group consisted of only three teams. In the last calendar year, Edoardo Reja’s side won just one of their seven games and that was a 1-0 win over Andorra.

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Other favorable pot three draws are Armenia and Montenegro.

Faroe Islands

Yes, the Faroe Islands really do trump Northern Ireland. And for a good reason.

This week, Håkan Ericson’s side defeated Turkey 2-1 in Tórshavn, their best result since their famous 1-0 win over Austria in 1990.

The game is best remembered for the exploits of bobble-hatted goalkeeper Jens Martin Knudsen. His son Petur is now part of the current squad of the national team.

Although the Faroe Islands are greatly improved, they still offer a chance for points for Northern Ireland. Other favorable pot four draws are Azerbaijan and Luxembourg.

San Marino

Pot Six consists of only three teams; Andorra, Liechtenstein and San Marino.

A good result here is to draw just one side from Pot 6, as seven of the ten groups will consist of just five teams. Two games against one of UEFA’s three minnows would give Northern Ireland a chance for two confident wins.

POTS

Pot 1: Denmark, Portugal, Belgium, Hungary, Switzerland, Poland (Netherlands, Croatia, Spain, Italy)

Pot 2: France, Austria, Czech Republic, England, Wales, Israel, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Scotland, Finland

Pot 3: Ukraine, Iceland, Norway, Slovenia, Republic of Ireland, Albania, Montenegro, Romania, Sweden, Armenia

Pot 4: Georgia, Greece, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Azerbaijan, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Faroe Islands, North Macedonia

Pot 5: Slovakia, Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Belarus, Lithuania, Gibraltar, Estonia, Latvia, Moldova, Malta

Pot 6: Andorra, San Marino, Liechtenstein