It wouldn’t matter where it was played, the Republic of Ireland’s first major tournament in 10 years was always going to bring out the Irish fans in force.
Giovanni Trapattoni’s side will be well backed in Poland and the Ukraine, and with a squad who’s only European Championships experience lies with their very experienced manager, plus the fact that they’ve been dumped in one of the tougher groups they could have been given, the Irish will need all the backing they can get.
In their only other European Championships experience in 1988 the Irish beat England 1-0 in Stuttgart, but this time around they’ll have to overcome the last two winners of the World Cup if they are to progress.
Before they come up against Spain and Italy though, Trapattoni’s men will face up to Croatia in Poznan in their first match on the tournament’s third day. Needless to say, it is a clash that they surely need to win (Republic of Ireland win 13/5 Bet365).
The Croatians are a tough nut to crack though, and if Ireland have to settle for a sharing of the spoils in their opening match (Draw 9/4 SkyBet) then surely qualification will be beyond them. Whatever the result of the Croatia game though, the Irish are unlikely to get much from their fixtures against Spain and Italy, and so a look into the total group points market (exactly 0 4/1, exactly 1 11/4, exactly 2 6/1, exactly 3 10/3 Paddy Power) could be worth it.
In the likes of Shay Given, Richard Dunne, Damien Duff and Robbie Keane, the Republic of Ireland have players who will perhaps be taking their last shot at tournament glory, a description that also surely applies to the 73-year-old Trapattoni, who despite his years only has two experiences of major championships, and both were disappointing. In 2002 he took his native Italy to the World Cup only to see them knocked out by co-hosts South Korea’s golden goal in a controversial second round match, before a humiliating group stage elimination at Euro 2004 led to his departure.
He’ll be coming up against Italy this time, but only after the Croatia match and the meeting with Spain in Gdansk. Despite their intimidating fixture list though, the Irish will be looking to rely upon their sturdy defence – marshalled by the experienced Given and Dunne of Aston Villa – which doesn’t look like conceding too many goals at the finals (group stage goals conceded: over 5 6/5, exactly 4-5 13/8, under 4 11/4 Bet Victor).
Going forward, captain and all-time record goalscorer Keane will be relied upon for goals, but Trapattoni has a wealth of options available should he wish to partner him with someone upfront. Wolves’ Kevin Doyle, the West Brom forward Shane Long and Stoke City’s Jonathan Walters all have top flight experience and are unlikely to be overawed by the sense of occasion, whilst youngsters Seamus Coleman, James McClean and James McCarthy have all made an impact on the Premier League in the recent past.
Ireland’s main problem against Spain and to a lesser extent the Italians will be getting hold of the ball though, and if they haven’t got the ball they can’t create chances (group stage goals scored: over 2 6/5, under 2 9/5, exactly 2 5/2 Bet Victor).
Whatever happens though, the support will still be there.
That alone won’t be enough to take the Irish into the last eight following their draw into Group C, but they can at least give the Spanish and Italians a run for their money.