Events in Cardiff tomorrow will dictate the identity of Ireland’s opponents in the Euro 2020 Path B play-off semi-final match on Tuesday, March 26.
If Wales beat Hungary in their last Group E match, Mick McCarthy’s men will fly to Slovakia next spring hoping to reach a play-off decider five days later against another opponent, most likely either Bosnia-Herzegovina or Northern Ireland. And that showdown could be staged in Dublin, depending on how UEFA’s draw for home advantage in the four play-off finals works out on Friday this week.
But if Wales end level with Hungary and Slovakia beat Azerbaijan, Ireland will go to Cardiff – a repeat of the do-or-die fixture decided by James McClean’s goal two years ago.
Should Wales suffer defeat by Hungary, an already complex situation will grow even more complicated, with either Wales, Slovakia, or Northern Ireland being elevated to the Path A play-off pool of four by means of a draw.
If Wales are bumped up to Path A, Slovakia will host Ireland and Bosnia-Herzegovina will welcome Northern Ireland. If Slovakia are removed from Path B, Ireland will face Wales in Cardiff. And if Michael O’Neill’s team leave the Path B equation, Ireland will travel to Bosnia-Herzegovina.
While Ireland beat Bosnia-Herzegovina in a two-leg play-off tie to qualify for Euro 2016, UEFA’s 2020 regulations provide for one-match semi-finals. Away goals do not count double, and extra time and, if needed, penalty kicks will be used.
The Bosnians leaked 17 goals in 10 Group J matches, losing five times (twice against Italy, and away to Finland, Armenia and Greece). But Miralem Pjanic (Juventus) and Edin Dzeko (Roma) carry a threat, and they helped to achieve a 4-1 home win against qualifiers Finland.
Wales are unbeaten at home ahead of tonight’s clash with Hungary, having beaten Slovakia (1-0) and Azerbaijan (2-1) and drawn with Croatia (1-1). They lost in Croatia and Hungary.
Slovakia have not beaten Ireland in five attempts (including four competitive matches). In the current campaign, their home record is one win (2-0 vs. Hungary), one draw (1-1 vs. Wales) and one defeat (0-4 vs. Croatia).
Only two things are certain. Ireland will play away from home in their semi-final match next March. And Ireland’s two previous experiences of single-match play-off ties ended in defeat: 0-1 vs Spain (Paris, 1965) and 0-2 vs The Netherlands (Anfield, December 1995).