The Republic of Ireland will compete in their first major tournament for a decade at Euro 2012. Their last appearance was at the 2002 World Cup, and from the current squad, only Shay Given, Damien Duff and Robbie Keane actually played in that tournament. In Poland and Ukraine, the Irish go up against the last two World Cup winners and the defending European champions, Italy and Spain. Slaven Bilic’s Croatia, quarter-finalists last time round in Austria and Switzerland, make up the so-called Group of Death
On the face of it the outlook is bleak for Giovanni Trapattoni’s men, but they do have a number of positives in their favour going into the summer’s footballing festivities. The Irish team have an experienced spine. Goalkeeper Given is his country’s most capped player, whilst John O’Shea has acquired vast big game experience at Manchester United and Richard Dunne is a veteran of over 70 international appearances. Ireland’s midfield boasts Duff, who could reach 100 caps if the Boys in Green make it out of the group, whilst the country’s leading scorer, Keane, will lead the line up front.
The management also come with pedigree and experience of big games. 73-year-old Trapattoni has won it all at club level as a player and a Coach, including managing teams to the league title in four different countries. Assistant manager Marco Tardelli won virtually everything there is to win as a player, and scored the infamous winner for Italy in the World Cup final of 1982.
Ireland arrive at the Euros on the back of a long run of good form. If they avoid defeat against Hungary in a pre-tournament friendly, it will mark a whole calendar year since their last loss, which came in Liege against Italy. They were successful in the inaugural Nations Cup tournament last year, winning all three of their fixtures. In their last game against Bosnia and Herzegovina they finished strongly to claim victory, with the game being notable for the first international start of James McClean.
The Sunderland winger was impressive on his full debut, and could cap a fantastic season by starring at Euro 2012. It was another winger, however, who was the most exciting attraction in Ireland’s final home game before the tournament. Aiden McGeady came on as a half-time substitute and turned in a performance of real quality to outline the strength the Irish possess on the flanks. They have a natural goal scorer up front in the shape of Keane, crucial for tournament football. Invention on the wings could be crucial in providing the LA Galaxy striker with opportunities.
Ireland will be playing without the pressure of expectation, and should they manage to get off to a good start with victory against Croatia, they have the attacking players to spring a shock on the counter against Italy or Spain. Virtually every tournament seems to bring a surprise package, and the Irish will be hoping that Euro 2012 is their stage.
One to watch – Robbie Keane: Ireland’s all-time record goal scorer will be looking to add to his tally of 53. The striker possesses deadly finishing, and his team will need this ability to convert chances that could be few and far between against Italy and Spain if they are to spring a surprise and progress out of the group stage.
Possible starting XI
O’Shea – St Ledger – Dunne – Ward
Duff – Gibson – Whelan – McGeady
Keane – Doyle
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