As any good football fan knows, this week sees the beginning of the Euro 2012 championships in Poland and Ukraine. For Ireland, it marks their first appearance at a major tournament since their last 16 exit to Spain on penalties at World Cup 2002.
Following a disappointing decade for the Irish, they look to spring a few surprises in Group C this year. Having been drawn against Spain, Italy and Croatia, Ireland kick off on Sunday night with what may well prove to be a must win game against the Croats in Poznan.
The arrival of Giovanni Trapattoni in 2008 has bought consistency to the Irish national team, following the turbulent and poor managerial reigns of Steve Staunton and Brian Kerr previously. They missed out on a place in World Cup 2010 in controversial circumstances, as Thierry Henry’s hand ball proved to assist the winner for France in Paris.
In Korea and Japan in 2002, the Irish managed a crucial draw against eventual finalists Germany, which proved to be the difference in qualifying for the next round of 16. Upsetting the favourites is something Ireland will be looking to re-create this year, as the Italians provide an immense threat and the Spaniards are outstanding favourites yet again.
The World Cup in 2010, won by Spain, saw them start slowly however, as they were beaten 1-0 by Switzerland in their opening match. Italy have underperformed at their last two major tournaments, and Ireland even beat them 2-0 in Liege last June, all be it in a friendly.
Whilst on paper, it is easy to right off the chances of the Irish, but with 14 games unbeaten and solid defensive displays throughout, they will be a tougher nut to crack than people will first think.
September 2011 saw just the kind of resolute display Ireland will be looking to bring with them to Euro 2012, as they helped their chances of qualification with a dramatic 0-0 draw in Moscow. Russia dominated the Irish, but outstanding displays from Richard Dunne and Shay Given meant the Irish somehow came home with a point, and an important one.
One problem the Irish may have is their lack of creativity. Whilst their defensive displays have impressed, a lack of goals and attacking prowess may prove costly. This was illustrated perfectly in Budapest on Monday night, as they drew 0-0 with Hungary. Ireland are, by all accounts, the 0-0 specialists.
Many fans may just be delighted at Ireland’s achievements already, as qualifying for the final championships in Poland and Ukraine was no easy fete. Not much is expected of Ireland in Group C, arguably the ‘group of death’, although the Danes might have something to say about that.
However, it is not all doom and gloom for the boys in green. Should they continue their good form, and stick to Trapattoni’s vigorous defensive philosophy, there is reason to suggest they can sneak into the quarter finals against all odds. If that is to be the case though, they should definitely look to beat Croatia in their opener on Sunday night.
Is this an all too optimistic view of the Irish chances? Or will Spain, Italy and Croatia just thrash them? Let me know: @ultimate_dav