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'It’s still fresh in the memory so we want to try and avenge that'

Martin O’Neill’s Ireland will face familiar foes when the inaugural Uefa Nations League gets underway this Autumn.

IRELAND MANAGER MARTIN O’Neill said his side will hope to avenge last year’s humbling and damaging World Cup play-off defeat to Denmark when the teams meet again in the new Uefa Nations League.

Martin O'Neill O'Neill was in Lausanne for this morning's Uefa Nations League draw. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The Boys in Green will come up against Age Hareide’s side once again after being paired together in this morning’s draw, while Wales — who Ireland also faced during the 2018 World Cup qualifiers — are the third team in League B, Group 4.

The reunion of World Cup foes is arguably as tough a draw as it gets for Ireland, with the group winner advancing to a play-off round where a place at Euro 2020 will be on the line.

“It’s déjà vu for us,” O’Neill told Sky Sports News. “We had Wales to qualify from our group and then we got Denmark, who beat us in the play-offs and beat us convincingly in the second leg. It’s still fresh in the memory so we want to try and avenge that.

“They will be matches where I think we all know each other pretty well.”

Ireland drew 0-0 with Wales at the Aviva Stadium before securing a place in the play-offs with that memorable victory in Cardiff, courtesy of James McClean’s second-half strike, last October.

As it would transpire, Ireland’s World Cup hopes were shattered by Christian Eriksen and Denmark a month later and now the sides will be pitted against each other again when the newly-formed league competition gets underway in September.

While admitting he will use the upcoming friendlies against Turkey and France to give younger players opportunities at international level, O’Neill says the added weight attached to the Nations League means experimentation ‘might have to disappear’.

“Friendly games over the last few years became important, but after all, they were friendly matches,” he continued. “Here there is competition attached and I think it’s important as there is promotion and relegation. At the end of it all, I’m in total agreement with it [the new league] and once I found out what the rules were all about, it was great.

“We’ve got some friendly games coming up now, and I think that’s the time for us to experiment. Try and bring some of the younger players through and hopefully we’ve got the possibility of another [friendly] game and I think those matches, you use those opportunities.

A view of the Pot B draw Source: Pascal Muller/INPHO

“I think the games in September, October and November have a significance all of their own so I think the experimentation might have to disappear.”

Uefa’s bold new competition aims to replace a large portion of friendlies with more competitive fixtures against similarly ranked teams. The system will also offer an alternative route into the European Championships, beginning with Euro 2020.

Teams who finish top of their groups and have not already qualified for Euro 2020 through the normal qualifying process, will then vie for the two places at the tournament that the Nations League has to offer.

Uefa will confirm the fixture details later this afternoon.

O’Neill, meanwhile, refused to be drawn on the issue of his decision to turn down the managerial vacancy at Stoke City to remain in charge of Ireland, adding: “I’m obviously pleased to do so. I had conversations with the FAI board. They wanted me to stay in the job and so let’s see how we progress.”

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Ireland draw Denmark and Wales in inaugural Uefa Nations League

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Ryan Bailey

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