How will Republic of Ireland fare at Euro 2012 in Poland & Ukraine?



By Adam Higgins
Chief Football Editor 



Many of the Irish 23-man squad have not tasted the stresses and strains of playing in a European football tournament during their careers 


They may have an extremely tough group and all the bookmakers turning a blind eye, but Republic of Ireland feel an upset is on the cards as they make their way to an international tournament for the first time in 22 years.

The Irish have been placed in Group C for Euro 2012: but don't worry they have only been drawn against reigning world and European champions Spain, Slaven Bilic's tough-to-beat Croatia and 2006 World Cup winners Italy- who after their disastrous showing in South Africa two years ago will be motivated to do better this time around. Good luck boys!

Ireland's qualifying success was built largely around the fact they had become difficult to beat. In Aston Villa pair Shay Given and Richard Dunne, they have an outstanding shotstopper in goal as well as a solid central defender who will throw his body infront of a bus if it meant securing a result for his side while the full-backs John O'Shea and Stephen Ward were exceptional in getting the balance correct between when to attack and when to defend. The defensive midfielders, who rotated between Keith Andrews, Darron Gibson, Keith Fahey and Glenn Whelan, have all plyed their trade in the Premier League during their less glamourous careers but remained disciplined and didn't over-commit.

Chuck into the mixer the influential creativity of the two wide men- Aiden McGeady and Damien Duff- who often switched wings to confuse opposition defenders with their movement and fantastic deliverys and work-rate as well as forwards Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle supplying the main goal threat and goals- it bodes well for a successful team and hopefully for the Irish- a successful tournament. Their added bonuses include the bright young Sunderland winger James McClean who has simply shone under Irishman Martin O'Neill's brief managerial tenure at the Stadium of Light putting himself in firm contention for a starting place at Euro 2012 for his impact in the second half of the Premier League season. Someone to run at tired defenders late in the game perhaps?

They are likely to play from the outset with the main starting eleven that brought them here in the first place:  Shay Given in between the sticks, the strength of John O'Shea at right-back, the central defensive partnership of Richard Dunne and Leicester's Sean St Ledger, Wolves' Stephen Ward pushing forward from left-back, Aiden McGeady from the right, Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews forging a central midfield relationship bidding to stop the creative Spanish and Croatian midfielders take control, Damien Duff's industry from the left, Robbie Keane's goal threat in attack alongside the hard-working Kevin Doyle. 

Former Spurs man Robbie Keane was Ireland's top scorer at their last major tournament, the 2002 World Cup, and almost a decade later the Dubliner remains the chief Irish goal threat. He contributed seven goals in qualifying. Quite an impressive tally from a side that often struggles to create clear-cut chances. The captain may have lost a yard or two of pace, but there is no doubting the predatory instincts that have made him Ireland's record scorer with over 50 goals in 117 appearances.

The 31-year-old joined Los Angeles Galaxy linking up with David Beckham and Landon Donovan last August while he provided the assist for the only goal in the MLS Cup final. The striker used the winter break to recharge his batteries in time for the 2012 season through spending a brief but productive loan spell at Aston Villa scoring three times for the West Midlands side. Despite all this action including friendlies for Trapattoni's side, fatigue and mental tiredness should not be an issue for him this summer.

Keane scored three times in four appearances at the 2002 World Cup, with his injury-time goal in the 1-1 draw with Germany the highlight of the tournament for many Irish fans watching from their armchairs or seats in the stadium with sheer amazement. He was part of the Irish team that won the European Under-18 title in Cyprus in 1998, although he missed in the penalty shoot-out win against Germany in the final.

In an otherwise workmanlike midfield for the Irish, Aiden McGeady is one of the few players capable of producing the unexpected from nowhere. Russian outfit Spartak Moscow are believed to have paid Celtic at least £9.5m for the left winger in 2010, making him the most expensive export from Scottish football. Handed his Ireland debut in 2004, he failed to score in his first 37 international appearances but has since opened his tally scoring twice in the qualification process against Macedonia and Andorra.

You cannot forget the outstanding defensive performance from centre-back Richard Dunne in a goalless draw with Russia in the qualifying stage as the Irish somehow survived the relentless pressure thrown at them from the likes of Arshavin, Pogrebynak and Denisov to come away with a valuable point. Dunne made one or two truly exceptional blocks while his organisation and marshalling of his fellow centre-back O'Dea that night was phenomenal in nurturing the young man through such a high-standing fixture.

But in terms of a team display, it is hard to look beyond the 4-0 play-off win in Estonia. This was a first leg victory which almost guaranteed their place in the finals even though a second leg still had to be played. Ireland have often looked uncomfortable in matches where they begin as favourites, but on this occasion Giovanni Trapattoni's side showed no mercy, albeit against poorly positioned opposition in terms of their FIFA rankings. If it was no surprise to find Robbie Keane's name printed twice on the scoresheet while setting up another for Shane Long while industrious strike partner Jon Walters netted on his full competitive debut, suggesting he may be a reliable player to choose from in the tournament.

Giovanni Trapattoni's tactics may not please everybody but they have certainly proved effective in getting the Irish where they want to be. After watching his side clinch qualification, the wily old Italian suggested amiably that his side could emulate Greece's surprise victory at Euro 2004.

It may be a long shot but the Italian is certainly overdue some luck at a major international tournament. His Italy side were controversially eliminated by South Korea at the 2002 World Cup, and went out at the group stage at Euro 2004 despite collecting five points. After securing qualification for Euro 2012, the 73-year-old was offered another two years at the helm which he accepted meaning that he will be with the Ireland team until the 2014 World Cup at least.

Ireland exited at the group stage in their only previous appearance in the European Championships back in 1988 however the tournament still holds fond memories for Irish supporters. Ray Houghton's goal secured a famous win against England before the Soviet Union were held to a draw, but defeat to the Dutch sent Ireland out.

Manager Jack Charlton's no-nonsense tactics took Ireland to the quarter-finals of the 1990 World Cup, where they lost narrowly to hosts Italy. Moreover, they exacted revenge four years later, beating the Azzurri in the group stage of USA 1994 before losing to Holland in the second round.


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