England will play the Republic of Ireland later today in an international football match. This a rather rare occurrence and is deserving of a blog post. While England play Ireland regularly (sometimes once a year) in many sports, for example in rugby or cricket, football matches are a far more infrequent.
Since the World Cup in Italy during the summer of 1990 - where the countries played out a 1-1 draw - the nations have met just 5 times. In fact, the countries have played against one another just 16 times (ever) according to the excellent 11v11.com website.
To put this into context, England have played international football matches against Scotland 114 times, Wales 103 times and Northern Ireland 37 times. There are complex historical, political and social reasons for this - the abandoned game between the two countries in Dublin in 1995 certainly did not help - but the number of games is still very low.
Following the 1995 abandonment, the countries did not meet again until May 2013, in an international friendly. There has not been a competitive game between the two since March 1991. This is somewhat surprising as the countries were rarely seeded in the same pot in UEFA qualifying competitions between 1992 and 2020.
What is also worth pointing out is the perfect balance between the nations in recent decades, despite England being almost always ranked higher in the FIFA World Rankings. Excluding the game in 1995, where the Republic of Ireland led 1-0 before it was stopped, the last 5 meetings (from the World Cup in Italy) to the most recent game in June 2015, have all ended in draws. The sequence has been 1-1, 1-1, 1-1, 1-1 and 0-0. Perfect balance.
The last time there was a winner between the two countries was coincidently the first international football match I remember - Republic of Ireland 1-0 England in Stuttgart at Euro '88.
England have not beaten the Republic of Ireland in more than 35 years - the 26th of March 1985 being the last time. However, with odds of 4/11 for an England win this evening, the bookmakers think this run is about to come to an end tonight. As an Irish man, I can only hope they get this one wrong.