Giovani Trapattoni is warning is Republic of Ireland side to go into their opening Group C game against Croatia with an open mind as they aim to get off to a positive start 24-years after their last European Championships appearance.
A visible excitement as gripped the Irish camp as they finalise preparations for their first major tournament since the 2002 World Cup and the Italian is well aware that victory over Slaven Billic’s side will provide a major confidence boost ahead of games against Spain and Italy.
Trapattoni is aware that only four players from the current squad were present in South Korea and Japan 10-years ago but insists he isn’t worried about the teams experience of international competition instead telling them to expect the unexpected when they take to the field against Croatia.
“Twenty-four hours before the match, the atmosphere is always the same. It doesn’t change whether it’s the championship or the league. Twenty years ago, we prepared the same whether it was the UEFA Cup or the last match in the Italian league, it was the same,” the 73-year-old said.
“The most important thing is what you feel. We all expect victory, of course, but the question is whether you can avoid mistakes. That is a huge concern because in each match, you want to avoid mistakes.
“This is something unpredictable and something unpredictable can happen in each match. You can prepare for a match in the best way you can, but I always watch matches and I prepare very well, and then there are unpredictable situations.
He added: “In each circumstance, the Irish nation is confident about this team. They fully believe in us. We are really confident, but we have to be aware of that unpredictability.”
It won’t be plain sailing for Ireland though considering Croatia’s performance in previous finals that has seen them reach the semi-final’s twice since taking part as an independent nation for the first time in Euro 96. They’ve always maintained a top 10 position in FIFA’s world rankings and are currently sitting in eighth.
But Head coach Bilic isn’t taking Sunday’s opponents lightly despite sitting 10 places above them in the rankings and reiterated the importance of beating Trapattoni’s side with much sterner tests to come in Group C.
He said: a”We still have to play against Italy and Spain, so we can’t focus just on the Irish, but also on Italy and Spain.
“What we have to think about is just to do our best. There are three matches – it’s not 13 matches, it’s just three and the first match is very important.
“We have to play very well because our nation is full of hope and if we can get three points, everything will be easier. As a player, I was in the same situation and it would mean a lot if we could get three points from our first match.”
Goalkeeper Shay Given is expected to feature between the sticks after returning to training on Friday but Trapattoni could be without Glenn Whelan who missed the end of that session.
Bilic has had to contend with a number of injury problems and lost Ivo Ilicevic to a ruptured calf muscle earlier this week. Sime Vrsaljko was called-up as his replacement. Vedran Corluka is also a doubt and will face a late fitness test before being cleared to play.
31-year-old Keane is Ireland’s leading goalscorer with 53 goals in 117 games and will be expected to add to that tally as he prepares to lead the line in Poland and Ukraine. The LA Galaxy frontman played and scored in the 2002 World Cup and his experience will be invaluable to Trapattoni’s hopes of getting off to a positive star.
The Tottenham playmaker is Croatia’s creator-in-chief and provides the telling link between midfield and attack that Ireland will need to monitor closely. Should Modric and Nikicia Jelavic strike up a quick understanding Bilic’s men stand a great chance of causing a surprise in Group C.