Roscommon People’s Guide to Euro 2012!
By Shane Hardiman
Ten years of waiting – four tournaments have passed us by – but Ireland are back in a major tournament! Ireland face a very big ask in a group with Spain, Italy and Croatia, the so-called ‘Group of Death’. Whatever our fate, it promises to be a very intriguing trip to Poland for the boys in green. They may not have quite the quality of players, or the experience desired, but there is one thing they have in greater abundance than any other team – support!
Realistically, the Rep. of Ireland have quite a small chance of getting past the group stage, let alone winning the tournament outright. The bookies have them priced at a hefty 80-1 to win the tournament and 14-1 to win their group. The good thing about Irish fans however is that they never succumb to others’ low expectations of our prospects and they will always believe that the team can win any game they play. And the players will also need certain levels of belief if they are to complete this mammoth task.
When Irish manager Giovanni Trapattoni named the squad, there were not too many surprises, the only one maybe being the inclusion of young winger James McClean, who up to now has been capped just once. The 23-year-old is a talent, no doubt about that, but he lacks experience on the big stage and will look to senior players such as Robbie Keane, Richard Dunne and fellow winger Damien Duff for guidance. McClean has already run many Premier League full-backs ragged this season, including European Championship opponents such as Vedran Corluka of Croatia and Italian Davide Santon, and we hope he can do the same for us this summer!
Robbie Keane will be our main striker at the Euros, but the question remains, who will partner him up front? Kevin Doyle will probably be the preferred choice as he has been throughout the qualifying phase – however he has been out of form coming into the tournament for both club and country, with his club Wolves finishing bottom of the Premier League. Ireland’s long ball tactic will be perfect for Jon Walters, as he craves the nod-on to the on-running striker and he can hold the ball up for Keith Andrews to arrive onto. Both Simon Cox and Shane Long are likely to be subs, players who could be introduced late on if a goal is needed.
Trapattoni is an Italian and in keeping with the traditional approach to the game in Italy he likes to deploy largely defensive tactics with the Irish team. This usually means Glenn Whelan in a more defensive position and Andrews pushing forward and arriving late into the box, hoping to get on the end of a knock-down.
Duff and Aiden McGeady are likely to start on the wings and this will mean almost an immediate cross into the box as soon as they get the ball. The defence effectively picks itself providing there are no injuries, with O’Shea, St. Ledger, Dunne and Ward in front of the experienced Shay Given. Robbie Keane should captain the side.
Ireland kick off their European Championship group games against Croatia in Poznan at 8.45 pm (7.45 pm local time here) on Sunday next, the 10th of June. This game, most believe, is Ireland’s best chance of a win in the group. Croatia are a very technical side who like to pass the ball around the park, attempting to see an opening and dissect the opposition’s defence. Their manager, Slaven Bilic, is a home-grown manager and therefore is aware of Croatia’s history and previous style of play. Spurs midfielder Luka Modric is undoubtedly their key player and he is the fulcrum of many of their attacks. Niko Kranjcar is his midfield partner and if both are playing well together, the result can be deadly. Forward Ivica Olic of Bayern Munich is out through injury and Nikica Jelavic of Everton is now Croatia’s key attacking player and he will need to deliver for the side. Their defence, however, contains no real major names and they can be exploited in this sector. Their goalkeeper, Stipe Pletikosa, can be unreliable at times.
Ireland’s next game will undoubtedly be their toughest challenge. They face reigning European and world champions Spain in Gdansk at 8.45 pm on Thursday, 14th of June. Spain are favourites to win the tournament outright with prices at 5-2 in some places. Manager Vicente del Bosque brought them the World Cup in South Africa two years ago and the squad is very much the same so the European Championships is expected by many people to be added to his list of achievements.
Their key player is Xavi, and his role in the team is to position himself in midfield and pick out other team-mates with his killer passing. Spain’s gameplan is to pass the opposition into submission and then attack them with a final ball through the heart of the defence. This will not be so easy against Ireland as the men in green work tirelessly in most games and they will hassle the Spanish players, not allowing a free passing game. This could force them to shoot from distance, where Shay Given will then hopefully clean up. Xabi Alonso is another key midfield player and he will hold the midfield, along with Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets. ‘Keeper Iker Casillas will be difficult to beat and a lot of the nation’s hopes rest on whether David Villa will be fit or not following a broken leg. If not, a lot of the pressure will fall on Fernando Torres and pressure is something which the striker has not been dealing that well with lately.
The final group game Ireland play is against Italy at 8.45 pm on the Monday, 18th of June in Poznan. This is another game in which Ireland must fancy their chances of picking up a result. This Italian side has been classed as ‘the worst in years’ by many media figures. Also aiding Ireland is the fact that our manager used to manage Italy. This gives us a distinct advantage in the area of tactics as Trapattoni will be well positioned to predict the Italians’ style of play.
As Italians, they are liable to play a quite defensive game. This could counteract our own defensive game and lead to a drab football match. But where we can exploit Italy is on the wings. If we spread the ball out to McGeady and Duff they can attack the Italian full-backs and provide cross after cross. Italy do not have this resource for two reasons. Firstly, they do not play with a lot of width and their only winger of note is Camoranesi. Also the Irish full-backs are very solid and do not allow wingers to run at them with much venom. Their manager is another home-grown one however Cesare Prandelli has not got a lot of international experience, particularly on the big stage, as this will be Prandelli’s first tournament in charge of Italy.
Their key player is the aging Andrea Pirlo, who swapped AC Milan for Juventus last summer. He has served the Italian national side so well over the years, earning 82 caps, and he must do it again for at least one more tournament if they are to recreate the feats of World Cup 2006. The midfielder is a free-kick expert, and his delivery into the box is always threatening. Danielle De Rossi will shore up the midfield while Guiseppe Rossi is expected to get the goals.
Should Ireland escape the group, and finish second, they will come up against the winners of Group D and if they are to stun Europe and win the group, they will face the runners-up of Group D which contains England, France, Sweden and Ukraine. England would be a tough test for Ireland, however we always up our performance that little bit extra when playing England and that is why I would back the Rep. of Ireland in that game. Ireland v. France would be a very interesting quarter-final altogether. Ireland are still hurting from Thierry Henry’s ‘Hand of Frog’ that denied the boys in green a trip to South Africa in 2010. I would also fancy Ireland to get revenge on the French in that quarter-final should it materialise. Sweden would have the potential to beat Ireland if that were the outcome so that would be my least favourite choice. Ukraine v Ireland would be a low-key affair, most likely resulting in a Rep. of Ireland win.
And so, on the 10th of June, I firmly believe there should be 4.6 million heads glued to television screens right across the nation for the start of what promises to be action-packed European Championships for the boys in green!
Shane Hardiman, a 5th Year Student at St. Nathy’s College, Ballaghaderreen, recently completed a work experience placement with the Roscommon People
Issue dated: 08 June 2012
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