The occasion may have been completely devoid of any tension or drama,
but the confirmation on Tuesday night that Republic of Ireland will be attending Euro 2012
still got Early Doors rather excited. Giovanni Trapattoni's side do not
travel to Polkraine just to make up the numbers - they do so as
valuable additions to the tournament.
ED should underline it
does not say this in a patronising sense, that the plucky Irish fans,
'up for the craic' according to stereotype, will add a bit of colour and
entertainment to proceedings, though no doubt there will be legions of
TV producers following groups of men in various hues of Emerald green as
they attempt to locate a pub serving decent Guinness in deepest,
No, ED means that in Ireland, the tournament has a formidable addition in the sporting sense.
1-1 draw with Estonia extended Ireland's unbeaten record under
Trapattoni to an impressive 11 games, with only two goals being conceded
during that run. Bear in mind that Russia, Croatia and Italy - all of
whom will be present at the finals - were prevented from scoring during
this hugely stingy streak.
As midfield maestro Keith Andrews -
yes Blackburn fans, you did hear that correctly - says: "I've heard that
we're going to be bottom seeds, but other countries certainly won't
want us with our current record ... we're very difficult to beat. Teams
won't relish playing against us."
Under their wonderfully
experienced Italian boss, Ireland have become incredibly hard to break
down - a green machine that benefits from all its moving parts having
very clear, distinct, and perhaps most importantly, settled roles.
he has adapted repeatedly to the changing demands of the game in
decades in management, Trapattoni hasn't developed a real penchant for
rotation in his current role, to the cost of talented young players like
James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman, and most of us could have a pretty
decent stab at naming his starting XI for the opening fixture at the
finals next summer.
Shay Given in goal of course, shielded by
John O'Shea, Sean St Ledger, Richard Dunne and then Kevin Kilbane or
Stephen Ward. In midfield the engine room of Glenn Whelan and Andrews
flanked by Damien Duff and Aiden McGeady, with Kevin Doyle and Robbie
Keane operating as a front two.
As well as developing a
consistent look on the pitch, Trapattoni has strived resolutely to
improve discipline off it, giving short shrift to those players who have
cried off friendly games due to fitness problems. The result is an
incredibly focused, united squad of players. And what of Stephen
Ireland, he of the dead grandmothers? "He probably doesn't even know
we've qualified," said Dunne, and even if he did, there is no chance
that Trapattoni will bring him back into the fold now.
kind of disciplined, settled approach - and a talismanic striker in
Keane who scored seven goals in 11 games during the qualifying process
to take his international tally to 53 - there will be few countries
relishing the chance to draw Ireland from the fourth and final pot,
even with Laurent Blanc's France in alongside them.
In fact, if
ED were being wildly optimistic, Ireland's parsimonious defence,
disciplined tactical approach, formidable team spirit and reliance on
Keane to sniff out a goal has echoes of a certain Greece side, and their
striker Angelos Charisteas, who shocked the continent in 2004.
is not to say that Ireland will win the thing, of course they won't,
not with Spain, Netherlands and Germany all looking in such sparkling
form during qualification. But they certainly have the capacity to shock
one of the major nations, even if it probably won't be pretty.
should not be remotely surprised by this of course. After all, the
lessons of history suggest Ireland will be no walkovers once they reach a
Their first exposure to the final stage of an
international competition came at Euro '88, when England were defeated
1-0, Russia held to a 1-1 draw and only a late goal from eventual
winners Netherlands denied Jack Charlton's side a place in the
Draws against England, Netherlands and Egypt
ensured passage to the knockout stages of the 1990 World Cup, where they
defeated Romania on penalties before losing 1-0 to host nation Italy in
the quarter-finals in Rome's Olympic Stadium.
Four years later,
eventual finalists Italy were beaten at USA '94 before a second-round
loss to Netherlands. In Ireland's last major tournament - the 2002 World
Cup in Japan and South Korea - Mick McCarthy led his side to the last
16, where they were defeated by Spain on penalties.
There is no
legacy of failure here. Ireland don't come to tournaments with the
intention of being patronised and being sent home early.
They may not
play with flair and reckless abandon, they may not become everyone's
second favourite team, but in their obstinacy, determination and
application they are a side built in the image of their manager, who,
lest it be forgot, is one of the most successful in the history of the
"I don't speak English very well, sometimes I'm not even
good at Italian," Trapattoni said this week, "but I understand
Two years after Thierry Henry's hand denied them a
place at the World Cup, and ten years since their last appearance at an
international finals, Ireland once again have the chance to prove they
are fluent in the language of major tournament football.
- - -
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "His
idols are Joe Hart and Mario Balotelli and at first he was mortified
that he was having to train with United, but he seems to be getting over
that bit now. He loves it. It's an amazing opportunity. Everywhere we
go people notice him because of his football talent. People just stand
and watch him. They can't believe he's only five because he's so good." -
Proud parent Andy Jackson explains how his son, Charlie, landed a deal
at Manchester United aged just five.
FOREIGN VIEW: "Costa
Rica played better than us. They defended very well and were successful
in their play. In today's game, you cannot undervalue any rivals. Costa
Rica were an exemplary opponent and you must never think that you beat
anyone easily." - Vicente del Bosque breaths a sigh of relief after two
late, late goals from David Silva and David Villa spared Spain's
blushes, to an extent, in Wednesday night's 2-2 draw against lowly Costa Rica.
also have the first instalment of our three-part interview with Wigan
boss Roberto Martinez, as he reveals which two Catalan icons he would
like to invite to his dinner party.