Efrem Lukatsky Ukraine's Andriy Yarmolenko
# Fingers crossed
Euro 2016 draw: We rank the teams in Pot 2
It’s time to take a closer look at who Ireland could be pitted against in Saturday’s draw.

JUST TWO DAYS to go until Ireland find out who they will be facing in France next year.

After looking at the sides in Pot 3 yesterday, we cast an eye over those making up Pot 2.

We’ve ranked them in order, starting with the side Ireland would most like to face and working our way down to the toughest draw from the pot.

1. Ukraine

Ukraine are definitely the most appealing option in Pot 2.

They finished third in Group C behind Spain and Slovakia and qualified via the play-offs, beating Slovenia 3-1 on aggregate.

This is their second successive Euro finals after co-hosting the last edition. They don’t concede an awful lot – four in their 10 qualifiers and one in their two play-off games – but have few, if any, names on their teamsheet that would strike fear into the opposition.

That said, Dynamo Kiev winger Andriy Yarmolenko was their star of qualification, scoring four times in the group stages and in both playoff legs.

Verdict: You’d take it in a heartbeat.

2. Switzerland

The Swiss cruised through in second spot of Group E, winning seven games and losing three, two of which to group winners England.

They had five points to spare over third-placed Slovenia and Vladimir Petkovic’s side have plenty of plenty of attacking ammunition, not least Stoke’s stocky winger Xherdan Shaqiri.

Petkovic, the successor to Ottmar Hitzfeld, is a renowned tactician and will have his side organised and difficult to beat.

Captain Gokhan Inler can’t get in the Leicester City team at the moment and he is someone Petkovic will be desperate to get playing regularly before next summer.

Verdict: Positive draw.

3. Russia

Since Fabio Capello was sacked in July, the fortunes of Russia’s national team have turned around.

Under Leonid Slutsky (below), who has continued to manage CSKA Moscow while in the role, they won their last four qualifiers.

This run began with a vital home win against Sweden and eventuated in Russia’s automatic qualification from Group G with a second-place finish behind Austria.

However, it must be said that their three other qualifier wins under Slutsky came against Liechtenstein (away), Moldova (away) and Montenegro (home).

AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Slutsky is a warm character with an interesting background and his time in charge to date has been in stark contrast to Capello’s.

The next few years are huge for Russian football and they will be desperate to head towards 2018 on the back of a positive finals campaign in France.

This Russian side is packed with experience and the likes of Alan Dzagoev and Denis Cheryshev should offer plenty of invention in midfield. And in Zenit striker Artyom Dzyuba they have a proven goalscorer at this level.

Verdict: Would rather avoid them but there are bigger fish in this pond.

4. Austria

Austria, for many, were the surprise package of this qualifying campaign – and that’s saying something considering some of the teams that will be in France next summer.

They won nine of their 10 qualifiers in Group G, a group that contained Russia, Sweden and Montenegro.

Ireland will get to know them very well over the next few years, having been drawn in the same group for World Cup 2018 qualifying.

Remarkably, it is Austria’s first qualification for a European Championship, their other appearance coming as co-hosts in 2008.

Swiss coach Marcel Koller has made a big impression since taking charge four years ago and he has plenty of talented players to work with.

Bayern Munich’s David Alaba needs no introduction on these shores after his late goals – in home and away fixtures – cost Ireland, and Giovanni Trapattoni, dearly in their quest to qualify for Brazil 2014.

Veteran striker Marc Janko, 32, has been banging in the goals for the Austrians while they also have Premier League stars Christian Fuchs (Leicester) and Marko Arnautovic (Stoke) in their ranks.

Verdict: A side on the rise, best to avoid.

5. Croatia

AP / Press Association Images Mario Mandzukic is a proven goalscorer. AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Croatia seems to have a conveyor belt for classy footballers.

Their jerseys never disappoint, their style of play rarely does.

It wasn’t their best qualifying campaign but they still finished second in Group H, four points behind Italy and one ahead of Norway.

Their impressive home form (four wins, one draw) ensured they didn’t pay dearly for dropping two points away to Azerbaijan and a disappointing 3-1 defeat in Oslo.

They are tight at the back and with the likes of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic in midfield, and Mario Mandzukic up top, they will cause any defence in Europe problems.

Verdict: Not again, 2012 is still fresh in the memory.

6. Italy

The Italians are second seeds for Euro finals yet again – surely lightning couldn’t strike twice for Ireland after being landed in 2012′s group of death?

Antonio Conte’s side cruised through qualifying with seven wins and three draws in a group that contained Croatia, Norway and Bulgaria.

They are typically tight at the back but if there is one weakness it may be up front. Southampton striker Graziano Pelle was their top scorer in qualifying with a measly three goals.

Brazilian-born Eder offers an alternative and has been in good form for Sampdoria but injury-prone duo Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy are struggling to get back to their best and haven’t featured for the national team in some time.

Verdict: Avoid at all costs.

Euro 2016 draw: We rank Ireland’s potential opponents in Pot 3

Martin and Michael O’Neill share Manager of the Year award after Euro qualifying success

Your Voice
Readers Comments