The Reuters global sports blog
It wasn’t just Irish eyes that were smiling when the Euro 2012 playoff draw was made in Polish city of Krakow – some of the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) delegation appeared to be laughing out loud when they were drawn to face Estonia, with the winner heading to next year’s finals.
But despite the protestations of coach Tarmo Ruutli, Ireland probably represents the best possible draw for the Estonians, given that the other alternatives were Portugal, Croatia or the Czech Republic.
“I don’t think the Republic of Ireland were the easiest of our potential opponents,” Ruutli said in a statement after the draw. “All the teams at this stage are strong and they proved it during the group stage. However, I won’t deny the fact that we wanted to face Ireland more than the others.”
Former Ireland captain Kenny Cunningham didn’t mince his words, telling RTE TV that “everyone would have been leaning towards Estonia. They are the weakest of the teams we could have faced.”
The Euro 2012 two-legged playoffs should offer plenty of action and eight entertaining matches, with the last four berths in next year’s finals up for grabs.
While Ireland will start as strong favourites against Estonia, the other three ties appear set to be nerve-jangling affairs in which two former Yugoslav repubics will be eager to avenge painful defeats against their respective opponents, while another is aiming to make history in only their second tournament as an independent nation.
German Muslims have inundated one of the country's top soccer teams, Schalke 04, with complaints about a verse in the club's anthem which, they say, is disparaging towards the Prophet Mohammad.
The club has its home in Gelsenkirchen in Germany's industrial heartland and immigrants make up about a third of the town's population. Most of them have a Turkish background. Germany's biggest mosque was opened in nearby Duisburg last year and many Schalke supporters are Muslims, as chat rooms like this one point out.