Ireland qualified for Euro 2012 through the play-offs after finishing second behind Russia in Group B of the qualifying process.
Their campaign began back in September 2010 when they ground out a 1-0 win over Armenia in Yerevan against a side that were to become their closest rival for a play-off spot.
They followed up that victory four days later with a 3-1 home success over Group B whipping boys Andorra, but October’s double-header yielded only one point from a possible six as a 3-2 home defeat to eventual group winners Russia was followed by a 1-1 draw away in Slovakia.
The arrival of 2011 saw the Giovanni Trapattoni’s men return to winning ways with a 2-1 success over Macedonia at the Aviva Stadium in March, followed by a 2-0 end-of-season victory over the same opponents in Skopje at the start of June.
This saw Ireland go into the 2011-12 season with 13 points from a possible 18 and tied at the top of the table with both Russia and Slovakia, and five ahead of Armenia.
The Republic are 9/2 to emulate their qualifying form in the finals by making it through the group stages, but they are 4/5 favourites to finish bottom of the table.
Russia opened up a two-point lead at the top of the group after September’s double-header saw Ireland draw 0-0 with Slovakia and then 0-0 in Moscow, while two wins for Armenia (including a brilliant 4-0 victory over the Slovaks in Zilina) pulled them to within a point of the Irish in the battle for second place.
Slovakia’s hopes were ended in October after a 1-0 defeat by Russia that put the leaders on the brink of qualification, while Ireland won 2-0 in Andorra to ensure that victory over Armenia on the final day would clinch a play-off place.
Trapattoni’s men duly clinched their place in the play-offs with a 2-1 win, although Roman Berzovski’s harsh sending off and Valeri Aleksanyan’s own goal gave them a helping hand. The play-off draw was kind for the Republic, pairing them with Estonia.
The small Baltic state had never qualified for a major tournament and the occasion got the better of them as a rampant Ireland fired four without reply in the first leg in Tallinn, with the home side reduced to nine men.
With qualification all but assured, a 1-1 draw at the Aviva Stadium was a mere formality before the celebrations could begin.
Ireland open their Euro 2012 campaign against Croatia on June 10th and they are 13/5 to chalk up an early victory.
They last met Croatia in a friendly match in August 2011, right in the middle of their qualification campaign. That match ended 0-0 and a draw this time around is 11/5, while Slaven Bilic’s side are 11/10 favourites.
Punters registering with bwin can claim a free £25 bet and placing this on Ireland to beat Croatia would return £90 if Robbie Keane and company end up taking the points.
Meanwhile, the Republic are 9/2 to emulate their qualifying form in the finals by making it through the group stages, but they are 4/5 favourites to finish bottom of the table.
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