Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough has revealed he is “fairly pleased” with the draw for Euro 2024 qualifiers.
“It gives us a chance to spring a surprise,” he said after his team were drawn with Denmark, Finland, Slovenia, Kazakhstan and San Marino in Group H.
The Northern Ireland boss insisted: “As a Pot 5 team, as we were for the qualifiers for Euro 2016, this group gives us a fighting chance to make a good fist of qualifying.”
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The qualifiers in Northern Ireland’s six-team group will be played in March, June, September, October and November next year.
In today’s draw, staged in Frankfurt, Denmark were drawn from Pot 1, while Finland were a Pot 2 team. Slovenia were plucked from the third pot and Kazakhstan the fourth pot. San Marino were in Pot 6.
Baraclough further pointed out: “I think being in a group of six nations is good for us. It means we don’t have to play friendlies and therefore every game is a qualifier and there’s something on the game.”
He said he was happy to have avoided the “very strong” groups A, B and C in particular. Group A’s top three are Spain, Scotland and Norway, while Netherlands, France and Republic of Ireland are the top three in B. Italy, England and Ukraine are the main seeds in C.
In terms of Northern Ireland’s opponents in Group H, the Northern Ireland boss said top seeds Denmark are a strong team and will be difficult opponents, however he believes the qualifiers against Finland and Slovenia are “winnable games”.
He admitted he is not looking forward to the long journey to Kazakhstan and would not like to be making it in June, when conditions there are stifling, however he noted “it is what it is”.
Baraclough added: “I think all the teams in the group will be thinking they can beat each other.”
The 10 group winners and the 10 group runners-up in the qualifiers will qualify directly for the final tournament in Germany in the summer of 2024. The three remaining spots will be completed with teams that qualify through play-offs in March 2024.