The Republic of Ireland have been this evening (Friday) drawn in Group C of the 2012 UEFA European Championships finals alongside the World Cup and the European Championship holders Spain as well as Croatia and Italy.
The championships kick off in Ukraine and Poland on June 8.
Ireland's first game will be on Sunday, June 10 against Croatia in Poznan before facing Spain four days later in Gdansk on Thursday, June 14. Ireland's third game, on Monday June 18, will be back in Poznan against Italy to bring the Group stage qualifying series to a conclusion.
The top two teams from each group qualify for the quarter-finals from which stage matches will be played on a straight knock-out basis.
The quarter-finals will be played from June 21 to 24th. The semi-finals will be played on June 27 and 28 and the final will be played in Kiev on July 1st.
First and second in Ireland's group will play against first and second in Group D in the quarter-finals. These two matches will be played in the Ukraine.
Group A: Poland, Greece, Czech Republic, Russia.
Group B: Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Portugal.
Group C: Spain, Italy, Croatia, Republic of Ireland.
Group D: Ukraine, France, Sweden, England.
Reaction to the draw
Manager Giovanni Trapattoni was quick to put things into perspective. He said: "It is impossible to say which Group was better because we know our position in the ranking."
Spain, holders of the World Cup and the European Championship, are ranked one in the World in FIFA's current ranking list. Croatia are ranked eighth and Italy ninth while Ireland are ranked 21 after improving their position throughout the EURO 2012 qualifying series.
Trapattoni clearly indicated he was not fazed by the difficult draw â€“ "We have to think that in football all is possible."
He showed he was as pragmatic as ever when he added: "I does not matter which teams we play we must always play with the same mentality and all teams in the Championship are very, very difficult (opponents)."
Ireland have played Italy three times under Trapattoni and enjoyed a good result each time â€“ two drawn matches in the qualifying tournament for World Cup 2010 and a 2-0 victory in a friendly match in Liege on June 7 last.
The manager conceded that he would know Italy better than Ireland's other opponents and added: "Every game is different. We have to play against the World Cup champions, Spain, who have a strong, strong team and Croatia will not be easy either."
He took an upbeat view of the task facing Ireland â€“ as he always does â€“ and said "It will be very, very difficult but I am confident. We hope we will return here without injury and we look forward to set up our training camp and we are happy to stay here in Poland."
Croatia manager Slaven Bilic commented: "We have a tough group but it will be a privilege to play against the World champions (Spain) and former World champions (Italy)."
He added, in good humoured fashion: "We also must play against Ireland. We played them this year in a friendly â€“ that is if Ireland ever play in a friendly match, if you know what I mean. It will be difficult but we look forward to it."
Kevin Doyle admitted to a great sense of anticipation and took a positive view of what lies ahead â€“ "I think it is right for us to be positive. We have done well against the bigger teams because we are very well organised and against the big teams we always seem to rise to the challenge.
"It won't be easy but it is exciting to look forward and it will be exciting for all the fans to be in Poland â€“ it will be easier to get to the matches.
"Watching the draw on TV brought it home to me that we have made it. We are amongst the 16 best teams in Europe and it was going to be difficult no matter that group we got and it is great to look forward to it."
The FAI CEO, Mr. John Delaney, said: "I'm thrilled for the supporters, to be based in Poland is great for them.
"No matter which group we were drawn in, we would be presented with a difficult series of matches. There are no easy games in the finals but it is fascinating to look to what lies ahead and we are not here just to make up the numbers ... we will give it a go !"
Keith Andrews said: "I'm just looking forward to it. Had we been drawn against one of the hosts then they may not have been as strong as some of the others but it is great to look forward to playing against some fantastic football nations.
"Drawing Spain means we could have had it easier but there are no easy matches at this stage of the competition and we will be playing against one of the most fantastic teams in living memory and if we play as well as we can it is going to be a great experience.
"We have six or seven months to go and I am just going to be thoroughly looking forward to it."
The Fixtures in Ireland's Group are (Irish times):
Sunday 10/06/'11: Spain v Italy, Gdansk 5.00 pm
Republic of Ireland v Croatia, Poznan 7.45 pm
Thursday 14/06/'11: Italy v Croatia, Poznan 5.00 pm
Spain v Republic of Ireland, Gdansk 7.45 pm
Monday 18/06/'11: Croatia v Spain, Gdansk 7.45 pm
Italy v Republic of Ireland, Poznan 7.45 pm
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