EURO 2012 Preview: Ireland aims to shock Group C
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Ireland does not qualify for major tournaments often. But when it does, it usually makes it out of the group stage.
The Emerald Isle has made it to the World Cup three times (1990, 1994, 2002) and emerged from the group all three times, reaching the quarterfinals in 1990 for its best-ever finish. Ireland's one appearance in the European Championships (1988) saw the nation crash out of Group B behind the Soviet Union and the eventual champion Netherlands.
Advancing beyond group play may prove to be a tall order given Ireland's draw - it has been placed in Group C with Italy, Croatia and Spain - but captain and top scorer Robbie Keane believes that the underdog tag relieves much of the pressure.
"Not many people will give us much of a chance this summer, but Ireland are at their best when they are written off," said Keane. "We did great to qualify for Euro 2012 and not many teams will enjoy playing us. (Giovanni) Trapattoni has made us tough to beat and we think we can cause a few surprises this summer."
The vast experience of coach Trapattoni is likely to be the difference between escaping the group and going home early.
It is unlikely that Ireland will outplay any of the teams in their group, but that doesn't mean that Trapattoni - whose resume includes managerial stints with AC Milan, Juventus, Inter Milan, Bayern Munich and the Italian national team - can't devise a tactical plan that helps The Boys in Green conjure a win from virtually nothing.
"Trapattoni is the wildcard in this group as he will ignore the form guide," said Croatia coach Slaven Bilic. "We all appreciate how tough it will be to break down an Ireland side that works for each other in a very impressive fashion."
Ireland is likely to ride a strong defensive effort, led by goalkeeper Shay Given, and hit teams on the counter. If Aiden McGeady and Damien Duff can provide quality service to Keane and Kevin Doyle while the opposition is slow to recover, then Ireland could be poised to steal a result.
The match in which Ireland is most likely to get a positive result is the opener against Croatia. If the Irish can steal a win off the bat, it would need just a point from its final two matches to have a realistic chance of advancing.
The deck appears to be stacked against Ireland at first glance. Man-for-man, they are clearly the weakest in Group C behind Spain's possession-oriented style of play, Italy's tactical prowess and Croatia's creativity. Ireland's hopes of advancing from the group hinge on getting a result against Croatia. The Irish will find points extremely hard to come by against Spain and Italy.