Euro 2012 will be Rep of Ireland's first tournament appearance in 10 years and while many pundits predict a quick exit in the group stages, perhaps Giovanni Trapattoni can spring a surprise or two.
Here are five reasons why we think Rep of Ireland can shock Euro 2012.
1. Style of Play
Love it or hate it…..and many Irish fans hate it….the style of football under Mr. Giovanni Trapattoni is dull…very dull. However, it is absolutely ideal for international football. This isn’t Premier League football taking place in Poland and Ukraine over the next month. It’s boring, disciplined, do not lose football. I mentioned this before when talking about England under Roy Hodgson - When Spain won the World Cup in 2010 their results were as follows: 0-1, 2-0, 2-1, 1-0, 1-0, 1-0. Not exactly a goal a minute games – but that’s what it takes. They say there are only two certainties in life – death and taxes – well you can add the fact that Trapattoni will play two banks of four with two holding midfield players and two out and out wingers to that list. His philosophy is very simple – here we are, now come and beat us! Many critics have called for the likes of James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman to be giving starting roles but Trap trusts the players like Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews and knows what he is going to get from them day in day out. No variables. The Italian knows how to play international football. In his time as Italy manager – although disappointing at major events – was impressive with only seven defeats in 44 games. Last Saturday’s 1-0 win over Bosnia was Ireland’s 13th game without defeat. Not a bad run heading into Poznan.
2. Case for the Defence
Spain will always be remembered for winning the 2010 World Cup through exceptional passing football with the like of Xavi and Iniesta pulling strings and David Villa scoring for fun. The reality of it was more down to a tremendous defence. We have looked at Spain’s defensive record in that tournament – now look at Ireland’s record. In their last 14 games (qualifiers, play-offs and friendlies) Ireland have keep 10 clean sheets – including eight consecutive shutouts. A phenomenal achievement when you consider that run contained the likes of Russia, Italy and Croatia. Trapattoni will start with Shay Given in goals, John O’Shea, Richard Dunne, Sean St Ledger and Stephen Ward as his back four (baring injuries). Dunne has been inspirational for the Irish in this qualifying campaign (see Russia away – to name just one of his many world class performances) and St Ledger always seems to play his best football at international level. John O’Shea has always been superb when wearing the green jersey and Ward has impressed since taking over from Kevin Kilbane at left back. We won’t concede many in Poland so it over to the next man to get us out of the group.
3. Robbie Keane as Mustard
To watch him sometimes in a half empty Aviva stadium, you do wonder how on earth Robbie Keane has so many international goals. For 89 minutes of a game the terms ‘headless’ and ‘chicken’ get mentioned from the stands on more than one occasion but come that minute when it counts, Robbie is there more times than not. 53 international goals in 116 games is nothing short of incredible. He will of course start up front for all three games but his partner will be key. It looks like Trapattoni will go with Kevin Doyle to start the tournament but Trap has a history of dropping Doyle if he is not producing so don’t be surprised to see Shane Long or Jonathan Walters get the nod for the Spanish or Italy game. Keane may infuriate you at times but we wouldn’t change him (and his lovely tumble roll celebration) for anything in the world!!
4. Opposition in Group C
On paper you would think I’ve lost it thinking Ireland can beat current defending World Cup and European Champions Spain, 2006 World Cup winners Italy, and a Croatian side full of top class players. But football is played on grass not paper! Spain come into the tournament with NINE of their squad having just played in the Copa Del Rey final between FC Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao. Many of this exceptional Spanish squad have played over 50 games already this season. Italy come into the tournament with yet another match-fixing scandal hanging over them and the days of Totti, Del Piero and Maldini are long gone. This Irish side contained Croatia to very little when they meet last August in the Aviva Stadium so Trapattoni’s men will have the belief that they can cause an upset.
5. On a wing and a prayer
We have talked about how Trapattoni will play his traditional, rigid 4-4-2 but the one outlet the Irish do have are three wingers in great form with a genuine ability to change a game. Last Saturday, Aidan McGeady showed his vitally important he is to this Irish side. He may drive some fans mad with his occasional poor shot selection but he has many strings to his bow to keep the very best fullback tied up in knots. On the other side, Damian Duff has been there and done that in his Irish career. He is also coming off the back of a good season with Fulham and his understanding with Keane will be crucial. The one joker in the Irish pack is James McClean. The Sunderland winger has been the talk of Irish football for the past six months after his eye-catching performances under Martin O’Neill. I was in the Aviva Stadium when McClean finally made Irish debut last February and judging by the crowd’s reaction you would be forgiven for thinking it was Lionel Messi taking to the pitch. He won’t start against Croatia but expect him to make an impact coming off the bench.