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O’NEILL’S EURO PLAY-OFF TEST

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MARTIN O’NEILL’S Republic of Ireland have been paired with Bosnia-Herzegovina in the Euro 2016 play-offs.

The first leg will take place in Bosnia-Herzegovina on November 12, 13 or 14, with the return game on November 15, 16 or 17.

The winners on aggregate – using away goals if necessary – will then go into the main tournament draw, which will take place on December 12.

O’Neill’s men missed the chance of automatic qualification when they were beaten 2-1 by Poland in their final group game, leaving them third in the group – one place above Scotland – and forcing them to settle for a play-off spot.

Bosnia finished third behind Belgium and Wales in Group B, but took four points off Chris Coleman’s side, drawing 0-0 in Cardiff last October and winning 2-0 in Zenica earlier this month.

Five of Ireland’s seven previous attempts at making major finals via the play-off route in the last 50 years have ended in heartache.

O’Neill, though, is confident of having one-time Celtic target Shane Long available for the two games despite his recent ankle injury. The Southampton striker missed the defeat in Warsaw, with his club manager Ronald Koeman saying he could be out for between two and four weeks, but O’Neill has not given up hope of having him available for selection.

The former Celtic boss said: “We do have a couple of weeks. I spoke to Shane a few days ago and he is optimistic.

“Like anything else, sometimes with these particular injuries, you’re going well for a little while then you’ve three, four or five days where the injury doesn’t seem to be healing up as quickly as you would imagine. We’ll play it by ear, but we’ve got a little bit of time.

“We’ve got obviously a few problems to negotiate, we’ve got a couple of suspensions – Jon Walters and John O’Shea – and who knows what might happen in the next couple of weeks with players playing at club level.”

Full draw: Ukraine v Slovenia, Sweden v Denmark, Bosnia-Herzegovina v Republic of Ireland and Norway v Hungary. Ties to be played November 12, 13 or 14 and November 15, 16 or 17.

 
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