The luck of the Irish fell flat in Euro 2016 draw
REPUBLIC of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill will draw hope from his side's remarkable recent win over Germany after they were handed a tough Euro 2016 draw on Saturday.
The Irish were pitted alongside Belgium, Italy and Sweden in Group E at the Finals, arguably the toughest group of all.
With Belgium currently ranked No. 1 in the world and Euro 2012 runners-up Italy widely regarded as the side to avoid from all the teams in Pot 2, O'Neill admitted his team face an enormous challenge.
"The draw is difficult for us. But we'll go there with confidence. We'll go and try and compete," he told reporters in Paris where the draw ceremony was held.
"Naturally you're talking about Italy in our group, who are effectively a Pot 1 team, and Belgium are considered now the best side in the world - whether you agree with that or not, they are certainly one of the top five or six teams playing in the competition."
"Sweden know about these competitions, they've got so much experience and seem to know how to qualify and get through.
"It's one I think our fans will look forward to even if the games are hard for us."
Nevertheless, Ireland showed they could compete with the very best at international level when they took four points off Germany during qualifying, a very respectable 1-1 draw away, followed by a stunning 1-0 victory in Dublin in October thanks to a Shane Long strike.
"We have actually beaten the world champions so we'll get some confidence from that," added O'Neill, whose side finished third in qualifying Group D, but made it to France thanks to a two-legged play-off success against Bosnia-Herzegovina last month.
"It's a long way away, there's another six months to go. I'll fret now for the next couple of weeks and then I'll look forward to it with enthusiasm after that."
In contrast, England coach Roy Hodgson was left with far less to fret about after Three Lions were in Group B alongside Russia, Slovakia and fellow home nation Wales.
"Despite having coached over 100 matches at this level with three teams (Finland, Switzerland and England), I have never come up against Russia, Slovakia or Wales," said Hodgson. "I'm looking forward to having new acquaintances. I'm quite happy not to be coming up against the same faces which has happened to me in qualifications."
"We hope we can do better, definitely than we did in 2014 (at the World Cup)," he added, referring to England's dismal group-stage exit when they finished with just a single point from three matches.