UEFA Euro 2012: Poland & Ukraine
Republic of Ireland-  A hearty effort without the quality
Review of the Tournament



By Adam Higgins
Chief Football Editor 





The Republic of Ireland players applaud their fantastic supporters after their final group match against Italy although their exit had already been confirmed



So once more, another home nation has bitten off far more than they can chew and they go back home from a major international tournament looking glum, feeling down and disappointed. I am of course talking about the Irish. 

Unfortunately, for their fabulous supporters, it has become a familiar feeling for the Republic of Ireland who came into Euro 2012 with great expectations and hope at the beginning of the year following their qualification to the tournament- until they found out who they will be playing. In the end, tiredness after a long, arduous season took its toll on some of the ageing legs which took to the pitch for Trapattoni as the side, with the oldest average age of the tournament, struggled to meet the demands of international tournament football which seemingly increase year on year. 

Outplayed by Croatia, outclassed by Spain and outfought by Italy, it was the worst possible outcome for the Irish who were eliminated after their second Group C match and finished in the measly bottom position. But you can never take away the spirit, desire and determination from the Irish contingent whether they be losing, winning or drawing a match. There is always a willingness to impress, do well with the whole backing of the country. 

The squad contained players who you can never fault for their efforts but just fall short of quality nowadays in certain departments- most importantly their age is a key factor. Shay Given, Richard Dunne, John O'Shea, Damien Duff, Glenn Whelan, Robbie Keane and Stephen Hunt fall into that category. Nearly the entire starting eleven to be precise. They relied to much on experience to carry them through rather than blending youth into the picture. In their ranks, they have one of the brightest prospects and talents of the current crop in James McClean at their disposal. 

A man who burst onto the scene from Irish football to be one of the stars of the season for Sunderland- but he was rarely used playing barely 20 minutes in total. Their lack of recent tournament familiarity also was a disadvantage for them. They hadn't made it to this stage since qualifying for the 2002 World Cup while they last reached the finals of the European Championships some twenty four years ago. 

The honour and privelege of putting on the green shirt flows through the players. The fans, all 20,000 who made the mileround trip from Dublin to Poland and Ukraine, epitomised the heartfelt passion that the country has towards the national football team with their constant backing throughout. Even when the team were taking a pasting from the reigning world and European champions Spain, losing 4-0 with five minutes left and a brisk exit from the tournament on the horizon of confirmation, the patrons packed into the PGE Arena in Gdansk were singing their souls out and doing their utmost to breed confidence through the drained bodies out there. You could barely hear a pin drop inside the ground as the "Green Army" were making all the noise. It was absolutely fantastic.

In the build-up to the first match against Slaven Bilic's Croatia, the sense of expectation grew as many, including pundits, knew that if they stood any chance of qualifying they had to get past the likes of Luka Modric, Nikica Jelavic and most importantly- goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa- to record three points. 

Their achilles heel throughout their brief three-game salvo in the competition was conceding early goals in each half of games. They conceded a soft goal just three minutes into their first game and from then on, you knew they were going to be in trouble as it went downhill quickly. Although, they got an equaliser which restored a bit of hope and belief started to run back through the veins of the dedicated Irish followers, it was to be the only goal they scored and the only moment they could really enjoy. Another goal, that had an element of offside attached with it, was shipped in the early minutes of the second half by Jelavic. Surely they weren't going to level it up again. We all know the answer to that. Any affiance they had of getting back into the game were extinguished when Mandzukic made it 3-1. Their realistic chances of progressing had ended after the first match. They knew that against Spain and Italy, who went on to play out the final of the tournament, were going to be harder than that. 

So looking ahead to the match against the one of the most successful international sides ever produced, even the optimistic of the Irish cast would have been fearing the worst. While, the candid ones amongst the men from another section of the British Isles would have known that following the Croatia defeat, their slim chances of getting through were made even more wafer thin. Many accepted that they were heading home after the Italy game, although the media laid on more pressure for the players by printing that the squad was capable of humbling the 2008 Euro winners and 2010 World Cup champions. 

They were second best and again fell foul of a goal leaked with barely four minutes on the clock. Spain ran riot from the moment Fernando Torres opened the scoring on a wet night in Poland. Coming from behind against anyone is hard, but against the Spanish who have the ability keep the ball for the entire game is doubly difficult. The Irish got tired and consequently, it was a match of relative ease for Vicente Del Bosque's side as they saw it out. In the good words of Patrick Barclay, they were lucky to get zero. The gulf in class was there for all to see. It was a rotten night in terms of the weather and a catastrophic one at that for the Irish who were sent home as a result of the damaging defeat which to be honest, many of us forecasted pre-match. Even Keith Andrews got knocked over by the ref- it just about summed it up for them. 

Andrews' night was to end prematurely on matchday three when Turkish official Cuneyt Cakir saw fit to send him off for a second bookable offence against Italy for pulling back Andrea Pirlo. The West Bromwich Albion midfielder did himself no favours when reacting angrily to the decision by kicking over a water bottle. Thankfully for him, UEFA were too busy in fining Croatia's fans for racial chanting and Nicklas Bendtner for showing us a glimpse of his undergarments, therefore he escaped further bother. 

In what was a much improved display, it still couldn't get them a positive result in which to bow out of the tournament with some pride left intact as the Azzuri came away with the win they needed to take them through in second place at the expense of Croatia. A 2-0 victory courtesy of goals from Antonio Cassano and that man who seems to make the news everyday for some reason or another- Mario Balotelli late on. Unfortunately, for Trapattoni, against his own nation, his players couldn't take their chances as they were left feeling down in the dumps. 

So, we can safely say that the Republic of Ireland will have much better times ahead. The 2014 World Cup will soon be here with the qualifiers beginning in September. However, that will be no easy ride. Youth should be given its chance to blossom, however for some their international careers will be coming to an abrupt end. When it comes to Brazil in two years time, it will be interesting to see just how many of this squad are selected should they make the last 32. 

With several of the over 30 players tipped to retire from Irish duty, just how many will ignore the speculation and answer Trapattoni's next call- for a friendly against Serbia in Belgrade. Will some be left out because of their exertions in Poland and Ukraine or because they are no longer part of the coach's plans? Time will tell. Certainly the players will feel that they have one more point to prove on the international stage. 

Republic of Ireland's Euro 2012 Schedule:-

Group C

Sunday 10th June                  Republic of Ireland vs Croatia               KO 7:45pm          ITV1       Poznan       Result:- Lost 3-1       Preview      ReportThursday 14th June                Spain vs Republic of Ireland                 KO 7:45pm          ITV1       Gdansk       Result:- Lost 4-0       Preview      Report

Monday 18th June                  Italy vs Republic of Ireland                   KO 7:45pm         BBC1       Poznan      Result:- Lost 2-0       Preview      Report 



1. Shay Given (Goalkeeper)- Appearances (sub): 3 (0) Minutes played: 270 Clean sheets: 0       Goals conceded: 9        YC: 0       RC: 0

Club team-  Aston Villa

Comment:  Not at his best which is a shame for him as he was one of Aston Villa's best players throughout a bad campaign for them and was tremendous throughout qualification for the Irish. Right from the opening minutes when he misjudged where Mandzukic's header would end up and then he effectively scored an own goal also against Croatia. He leaked nine goals and it could have been more. Not as consistent as usual which will be a huge disappointment for him.   Rating: 6/10 



2. Sean St Ledger (Centre-back)-  Appearances (sub): 3 (0)  Minutes played: 270    Goals: 1     Assists: 0     Yellow cards: 2      Red cards: 0

Club team-  Leicester City

Comment:  The best Irish player at Poland and Ukraine and their only goalscorer with that header against Slaven Bilic's Croatia. A solid defender who was in and out of the Leicester side in their faltering promotion push in the Championship last season but he sustained a high personal performance level in the three games for Ireland at the tournament despite the three defeats and goals let in. A great centre-back who read the game well and never let Giovanni Trapattoni down. Showed he was worthy of his place.  Rating: 8/10



3. Stephen Ward (Left-back)-  Appearances (sub): 3 (0)    Minutes played: 270      Goals: 0      Assists: 0      Yellow cards: 0       Red cards: 0

Club team-   Wolves

Comment:  The left-back was at fault for a number of the goals that the Rpeublic of Ireland conceded at the tournament and he didn't get forward as much as he usually does and can do. In defence, he was suspect and in attack, he was ineffective. It is a recipe for disaster not just for him but the team however Trapattoni retained his faith in him for all three group matches. After relegation with his club and now a quick exit from Euro 2012, it sums up what has been a backward step in his career  over the last twelve months having improved his game since Wolves were promoted.  Rating: 6.5/10



4. John O'Shea (Right-back/centre-back)-  Appearances (sub): 3 (0)     Minutes played: 270     Goals: 0    Assists: 0      Yellow cards: 1     Red cards: 0

Club team-  Sunderland

Comment:  Well what can you say about O'Shea. He won't need telling that he had an absolutely nightmare at Euro 2012. Nothing worked for him at all. Played at right-back in each of the three Group C encounters, his lack of pace was there for everyone to see and every opponent to expose while he looked tired after the rigours of a long Premier League season with the Black Cats. He was caught out all the time and rarely ventured across the halfway line to supply crosses or assist in attack. Overall, he will know that fatigue was the main reason for him performing to such a poor standard which you have to say is not like him at all. For me, the worst Republic of Ireland player at the tournament.     Rating: 4/10 



5. Richard Dunne (Centre-back)-  Appearances (sub): 3 (0)    Minutes played: 270     Goals: 0      Assists: 0      Yellow cards: 0      Red cards: 0

Club team-  Aston Villa

Comment:  Another one who puts everything into every game and doesn't always get the rewards for it. A tough tackling centre-back who you have to say underperformed at Euro 2012. Outshone by his defensive partner St Ledger, the 32-year old couldn't handle Mario Mandzukic in the first match against Croatia, the lightning Fernando Torres in the second match against Spain and was dazzled by the movement and partnership between Cassano and Balotelli against the Azzuri. He also missed one or two goalscoring chances which could have made a difference. He didn't look at his fittest but tons of effort & commitment were evident.    Rating: 6.5/10  



6. Glenn Whelan (Central midfielder)-  Appearances (sub): 3 (0)     Minutes played: 260      Goals: 0      Assists: 0      Yellow cards: 1     Red cards: 0

Club team-  Stoke City

Comment:  A quiet tournament for the Stoke City man who was tasked with handling some of the world's best midfielders such as Luka Modric, Xavi, Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi and ultimately failed. Over a long period of time, he has forged a relatively successful midfielder partnership with Keith Andrews in the Irish side but the two looked like complete strangers alongside each other in Poland and Ukraine. Whelan could not get tight enough to his opponents, allowing them space and was pinned back helping out defenders. He was unsure of what he was meant to be doing and didn't look like a player who has masses of international experience.          Rating: 6/10 



7. Aiden McGeady (Winger)-  Appearances (sub): 3 (0)     Minutes played: 208     Goals: 0        Assists: 1        Yellow cards: 0        Red cards: 0

Club team-  Spartak Moscow

Comment:  Claims an assist for the only goal that the Irish scored in the tournament through St Ledger's header against the Croats but again another miserable showing at the tournament for a player who everyone had high hopes for. McGeady shone week in week out for Celtic and was attracting Premier League interest three years ago. He was dubbed as being chief creator on the left hand side for Trapattoni and although he had a decent outing against the Croatians, he was anonymous against the two finalists Spain and Italy. He created zilch for his colleagues and never got the beating of any of the full-backs he was up against. McGeady is a fantastic player and he will recover from this.        Rating: 6.5/10  



8. Keith Andrews (Central midfielder)-  Appearances (sub): 3 (0)     Minutes played: 268     Goals: 0     Assists: 1      Yellow cards: 2      Red cards: 1

Club team-  Bolton Wanderers

Comment:  Well he was having a fantastic tournament until they were knocked out. Against Croatia, he remained tight and compact in midfield and was trying to stop Modric single-handedly at times- while he had the best and pick of the Irish chances that night in Poznan. He loves to get forward and we saw glimpses of that in all three games. Against Spain, he was knocked over by the referee and showed good fitness levels over 90 minutes to get around the pitch. He has an eye for goal which we saw against the Italians before he was harshly sent off for a second yellow card. Having joined Bolton, he will be desperate to get them and himself back in the Premier League where I feel he belongs.          Rating: 7/10 



9. Kevin Doyle (Striker)-  Appearances (sub): 2 (0)      Minutes played: 129      Goals: 0      Assists: 0        Yellow cards: 0       Red cards: 0

Club team-  Wolves

Comment:  He started off well in the first half an hour of the opening match against Croatia, held the ball up well when he got the chance and drew some fouls of which the Irish could utilise one of their best scoring weapons through setpieces. He was causing Corluka and Schildenfeld a few worries although he went missing in the second half and was taken off. We didn't see him against Spain and then played against the Italians in game three where he looked unconvincing and out of his depth. He, like Ward, will have come into the tournament after relegation disappointment which could easily affect a player negatively- which looks to be the case with Doyle. A tricky forward to cope with on his day but the goals have dried up for him over the last twelve months- as have his displays for club and country.         Rating: 6/10 



10. Robbie Keane (Striker)-  Appearances (sub): 3 (0)     Minutes played: 250      Goals: 0        Assists: 0        Yellow cards: 1         Red cards: 0

Club team-  LA Galaxy

Comment:  If anyone will be remotely disappointed about the Euro 2012 campaign, then it will be captain Robbie Keane who is Irish through and through. He loves his country so much and playing for Ireland means the world to him (as I'm sure it does for them all but him in particular). Again, he was forced into a more deeper position which we usually see deployed by Wayne Rooney in big Premier League and Champions League games for Manchester United. This clearly didn't suit him as he loves to be upfront with a strike partner utilising the threat he poses to opposition defenders and the goal by firing in. To leave without a solitary goal is incredibly surprising for someone who was a big hit in his prime at Spurs. He didn't even play every minute of every game. A tournament to forget for him that's for sure.          Rating: 6.5/10  



11. Damien Duff (Winger)-  Appearances (sub): 3 (0)     Minutes played: 256      Goals: 0       Assists: 0       Yellow cards: 0        Red cards: 0

Club team-  Fulham

Comment:  Reaching the milestone of 100 caps for your country is an achievement that every footballer will be immensely proud of reaching, and that is no different for Duff who completed this when he started and captained the side against Italy in the final group game. He put in some hard working shifts to help out in attack and defence but ultimately wingers are judged on their final ball delivered into the box and the number of assists they record- and this is where Duff failed at the tournament. You can never fault him for his workrate even though the quality left in him isn't as high as it used to be at the age of 32. He will never stop running for the entire game and in the three games, he never looked tired and worked his socks off for the cause which is all you can ask as a manager.        Rating: 7/10 



12. Stephen Kelly (Right-back)-  Appearances (sub): 0 (0)     Minutes played: 0       Goals: 0       Assists: 0     Yellow cards: 0      Red cards: 0

Club team-  Fulham

Comment:  Didn't feature.     Rating: N/A 



13. Paul McShane (Right-back/centre-back)-  Appearances (sub): 0 (0) Minutes played: 0     Goals: 0     Assists: 0     Yellow cards: 0     Red cards: 0

Club team-  Crystal Palace

Comment:  Didn't feature.      Rating: N/A  



14. Jon Walters (Forward)-  Appearances (sub): 0 (3)      Minutes played: 96      Goals: 0       Assists: 0      Yellow cards: 0        Red cards: 0

Club team-  Stoke City

Comment:  Made substitute appearances in each of the three games and never really made an impact. He has been fantastic over the last couple of seasons at Stoke City is now considered their main forward- he was the first man on the team sheet for Tony Pulis in his first campaign while he has created a decent link-up with Peter Crouch since the big forward arrived from Spurs. Walters isn't considered an out-and-out striker or goalscorer but always chips in with some important goals and a reasonable tally in terms of the number of goals he gets each season. He isn't the tallest but is very strong and can outmuscle even some of the more athletic opponents. He had one or two chances at the tournament but couldn't take them- he may start to become a more regular starter in the Irish international fold- against Italy, he looked sharp.   Rating: 5.5/10  



15. Darron Gibson (Central midfielder)-  Appearances (sub): 0 (0)    Minutes played: 0      Goals: 0      Assists: 0      Yellow cards: 0      Red cards: 0

Club team-  Everton

Comment:  Didn't feature.         Rating: N/A  



16. Kieron Westwood (Goalkeeper)-  Appearances (sub): 0 (0)     Minutes played: 0     Clean sheets: 0       Goals conceded: 0      YC: 0      RC: 0

Club team-  Sunderland

Comment:  Didn't feature.      Rating: N/A



17. Stephen Hunt (Left sided winger)-  Appearances (sub): 0 (0)     Minutes played: 0      Goals: 0      Assists: 0      Yellow cards: 0     Red cards: 0

Club team-  Wolves

Comment:  Didn't feature.       Rating: N/A  



18. Darren O'Dea (Central defender)-  Appearances (sub): 0 (0)     Minutes played: 0      Goals: 0      Assists: 0     Yellow cards: 0      Red cards: 0

Club team-  Celtic

Comment:  Didn't feature.        Rating: N/A  



19. Shane Long (Striker)-  Appearances (sub): 0 (2)     Minutes played: 41     Goals: 0       Assists: 0       Yellow cards: 0         Red cards: 0

Club team-  West Bromwich Albion

Comment:  After a big money move from Championship club Reading to Premier League outfit West Brom, Shane Long looked to be going places in his career and he started the season lively following up a debut goal against Manchester United with a third-minute strike against Chelsea in the Baggies' second match of the campaign at Stamford Bridge. But like all good things, they don't last forever and the forward faded away adding just four or five more goals to his 2011-12 collection. Having made his way into the squad for Euro 2012, he was the main contender vying with Kevin Doyle to partner Robbie Keane at the European championships but lost the battle making just two appearances. He missed a golden chance against the Italians, had one of their best chances against Spain and blew the duck out of the water by failing to make a difference. A man who has also known where the net is wherever he has been but will need to start finding it again quickly if he is to retain his squad position for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers. His performances and ability to make an impact quickly were certainly put under the spotlight in Poland and Ukraine- and were pitilessly not up to scratch.         Rating: 5/10  



20. Simon Cox (Striker)-  Appearances (sub): 1 (2)     Minutes played: 86  Goals: 0      Assists: 0       Yellow cards: 0          Red cards: 0

Club team-  West Bromwich Albion

Comment:  Out of the five strikers that Trapattoni took with him to Poland and Ukraine, Simon Cox would be the one that everyone thought would be left out and not feature at all. But it turned out the West Bromwich Albion man would be one of the main forwards for them at Euro 2012. He appeared in all three games and showed signs of promise for the Irish when they embark on their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign in the Autumn. A bit-player who rarely appeared as a substitute never mind a starter last season for the Baggies- Cox had a positive influence against Croatia as the Irish pressed for a consolation goal late on when losing 3-1 in Poznan. Having acknowledged his contribution, Trapattoni put him in the starting eleven, albeit out of position, against Spain in the second game where he was ineffective and thus was taken off at half-time. Against Italy, when brought off the match, he didn't do anything to change the game and wasted one or two openings. Another disappointing experience for a player who hasn't had many opportunities to shine at the highest level.     Rating: 5.5/10 



21. Paul Green (Central midfielder)-  Appearances (sub): 0 (1)      Minutes played: 10      Goals: 0      Assists: 0      Yellow cards: 0     Red cards: 0

Club team-  Leeds United

Comment:  Ten minutes against the reigning world and European champions Spain on a rainy, wet and miserable night for the Irish in Gdansk was all we got to see one of Derby County's best players throughout the 2011-12 season. A relative veteran in midfield now, Green was only brought into the squad to replace the injured Keith Fahey and looking at how often he played at Euro 2012. It was clear that he wasn't part of Trapattoni's plans for the tournament. He is a player who is great at carrying the ball forward, weighing up options when he has the ball and cracking one or two brilliant goals in. Against Spain, he touched the ball around four times after being introduced after 80 minutes and gave it away twice. Not what he was expecting- then again he wasn't expecting to be in the squad so he has got more than he bargained for. His international career, unfortunately it appears, won't last much longer.         Rating: 4.5/10  



22. James McClean (Left winger)-  Appearances (sub): 0 (1)       Minutes played: 14      Goals: 0      Assists: 0     Yellow cards: 0      Red cards: 0

Club team-  Sunderland

Comment:  Just a very brief substitute appearance for a player who has flourished in the limelight in the second half of last season. In December, he was nowhere to be seen in the Sunderland side having joined them last summer from the Irish League. But as soon as Martin O'Neill arrived and injury problems arose, he was drafted in and showed his true quality and why the Black Cats had made it a priority to snap him up from Derry City- he came from nowhere to become one of the rising stars of the Premier League. He put in some impressive performances and was a regular int he starting eleven in the closing months where we saw him hit the top of his form. It's a real shame we only saw 14 minutes of him at the tournament. It was great to see him included in the squad having only made his international debut in a warm-up friendly before Euro 2012 so clearly Trapattoni was impressed by him. Against the Italians, he looked determined to prove a point and show everyone what he has got. We will certainly be seeing more of him in the future.      Rating: 4.5/10  



23. David Forde (Goalkeeper)-  Appearances (sub): 0 (0)      Minutes played: 0      Clean sheets: 0      Goals conceded: 0     YC: 0       RC: 0

Club team-  Millwall

Comment:  Didn't feature.        Rating: N/A 



Manager Watch:  Giovanni Trapattoni

Squad Selection:- Rating: 8/10-  Picked players which he knew well and could rely on to do a job. Kept faith with the group of experienced players who largely got them to the Euro 2012 finals after a superb qualification process. Included a wildcard in James McClean who had come through at Sunderland last season and also went with a couple of lads out of form like Simon Cox and Shane Long upfront for West Brom otherwise on the whole, a good selection from the boss.

Personnel:- Rating: 7/10-  Kept the same back four and goalkeeper for all three games in Poland and Ukraine despite the number of goals they shipped showing he has faith in them- they are all experienced at club level. He largely kept the same players in the side changing one or two players at most. The midfield quartet of Duff, Andrews, Whelan and McGeady were kept the same while he swapped Robbie Keane's strike partner between Doyle and Cox- he could have made more changes to each team to freshen it up especially against Italy when they were already out of the tournament. 

Tactics:- Rating: 7/10-  It was the same sort of system for all three games from the Italian boss. It started off with a conventional 4-4-2 formation against Croatia- it was a match that they needed to win and go for so it made sense to start with Keane alongside another forward in Doyle. Although, the two didn't work together particularly well and were forced to drop too deep into midfield positions to help out as Luka Modric was given far too much time on the ball. Against the Spanish, the formation changed to a 4-4-1-1 with Keane very much part of the midfield thus leaving Simon Cox iscolated. While against Italy, a similar system was adopted whereby Keane would drop back when Italy had possession and push up when the Irish attacked which was only on the odd occasion. Overall, the tactical side of the Irish's play could be worked on as it wasn't up to scratch at Euro 2012.

Substitutions:- Rating: 7/10-  Overall, his substitutions on paper were good although they just couldn't have the desired effect or impact on the matches. He switched the forwards around well, utilising all five and giving them a fair number of minutes and crack at the whip. He made the maximum number of substitutions available to him in all of the games which was useful considering the line-up he played contained a number of ageing players.

Overall Rating:- Rating: 7/10 



Republic of Ireland's Best Player of the Tournament:
   Sean St Ledger- Rating 8/10

Republic of Ireland's Worst Player of the Tournament:   John O'Shea- Rating 4/10


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