Germany's coach Joachim Loew (R) and Northern Ireland's coach Michael O'Neill shake hands after the final draw of the UEFA Euro 2016 football tournament in Paris on December 12, 2015 (Reuters)
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill will draw hope from his side's remarkable recent win over Germany after they were handed a tough Euro 2016 draw on Saturday.
The Irish were pitted alongside Belgium, Italy and Sweden in Group E at the finals, arguably the toughest section of all.
With Belgium currently ranked as the No 1 team in the world and Euro 2012 runners-up Italy widely regarded as the side to avoid from all the teams in pot two, O'Neill admitted his team face an enormous challenge.
"I think the draw is difficult for us. But we'll go there with confidence. We'll go and try and compete," he told reporters in Paris where the draw ceremony was held.
"Naturally you're talking about Italy in our group, who are effectively a pot one team, and Belgium are considered now the best side in the world – whether you agree with that or not, they are certainly one of the top five or six teams playing in the competition."
"And Sweden know about these competitions, they've got so much experience and seem to know how to qualify and get through.
"It's one I think our fans will look forward to even if the games are hard for us."
Sweden will be Ireland's first opponents at the Stade de France on Monday June 13, with a trip to Bordeaux to face Belgium following that five days later.
They will then tackle the Italians in the northern city of Lille on Wednesday June 22 in a daunting final group game.
It is a repeat of Euro 2012 for the Irish, who lost 2-0 to Italy in their final group game in Poland, when they went home without a point and with just one goal to their name.
Nevertheless, Ireland showed they could compete with the very best at international level when they took four points off Germany during qualifying, a very respectable 1-1 draw away being followed by a stunning 1-0 victory in Dublin in October thanks to a Shane Long strike.
"We have actually beaten the world champions so we'll get some confidence from that," added O'Neill, whose side finished third in qualifying Group D but made it to France thanks to a two-legged play-off success against Bosnia-Herzegovina in November.
"It's a long way away, there's another six months to go. I'll fret now for the next couple of weeks and then I'll look forward to it with enthusiasm after that."
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