The day of reckoning has arrived. 24 years of waiting is over for Ireland – as tonight, they take on Croatia. Many in Ireland are cautiously optimistic. The manager and the players certainly seem to be confident that progression to the knock-out stages is possible. The big question is: can Ireland qualify from a group containing Spain, Italy and Croatia?
Giovanni Trapattoni, for one, has, on a couple of occasions cited Greece’s triumph in 2004, as the team Ireland should look to for inspiration. A team that made the impossible look possible. There are even some parallels that can be drawn between Ireland and Greece. Firstly, the average age of the two squads – Greece were the oldest winners since 1992 with an average age of 28.35, while Ireland come into this tournament with the oldest squad out of the 16 teams competing at 28.30. Before Ireland, only two nations have come to the Euros 24 years after their first appearance, France in 1984 and Greece in 2004 – both won the tournament. A good omen, perhaps?
Ireland go into tonight’s games against Croatia unbeaten in 14 games, since a 3-2 friendly defeat to Uruguay in March 2011, but you have to go back to October 2010 for the last competitive defeat, that to Russia, also 3-2. In that 14 game unbeaten stretch, that have been 11 clean sheets. Defensive solidity and the fact they are difficult for teams to break down suggests Trapattoni’s side could cause problems for the three teams in their group. The Italian has also yet to lose a competitive fixture on the road, as Ireland manager.
Previous records at major tournaments (qualified for five) suggests that Ireland always have a big game scalp in them at Euro ’88 there was the victory over England, Italia ’90 draws against England and Holland, USA ’94 beating Italy and in Japan/Korea in 2002 a draw right at the death against Germany. They will certainly want to keep up their record of never having lost an opening game in the finals of a major tournament (World Cup and European Championship). However, by the same token, Ireland have never won twice in the group stages of a tournament.
So, realistically, how many points will be needed to qualify?
5 points – The likelihood is that Ireland, to qualify from Group C need five points. Since the Euros expanded to 16 teams in 1996, only once has a team failed to qualify after accumulating five points, and that was Italy in 2004, managed by, none other than Giovanni Trapattoni. Italy crashed out while Sweden and Denmark qualified something which, to this day, Trapattoni has not forgotten. As researched here, the average points for group winners is 7.56 points, while the average for runners-up is 4.875.
4 points – Turning back to the Greece-Ireland parallel again, eight group runners-up in the last four competitions have managed to scrape through to the knock-out stages with a win, a draw and a defeat – Greece did so in 2004…
3 points – Since the European Championship expanded in 1996, and three points for a win came into operation, no team has managed to qualify for the knock-out stages with three points.
Over to you, do you think Ireland can qualify from Group C? For further debate, follow me on Twitter @walsh_i