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The Republic of Ireland in Euro 2012
'The Rocky Road to Poland' The offical song for the Rep of Ireland in Euro 2012
For the first time in 10 years, the boys in green have qualified for the finals of a major tournament. In June of 2012, thousands of Irish people will be flocking to Poland to see their nations pride go into battle with the likes of Croatia, Italy and world champions Spain, a prospect that caused fans to grit through clenched teeth and wince when the draw was made a few months ago. So how will Ireland fair in the finals?
Will they even manage to make it out of their group? Will the likes of Fernando Torres, Xavi, and Iniesta be too strong for them? Could they even win the prestigious tournament? A tournament that has included shock winners in the past such as Greece and Denmark…it’s hard to say, one thing that the Irish do have on their side is overwhelming support and a mentality and grit not matched by other teams that have qualified, plus a militant style of play drilled into them by the now legendary manager Giovanni Trapattoni.
Not since Germany in 1988 has Ireland ever graced the finals of the European Championship, a tournament that included a shock 1-0 win over England, a 1-1 draw against Russia that included a goal by Ronnie Whelan which was the best ever seen in any European finals, and a narrow defeat to Holland that prevented them from getting to the semi finals. The road to the 2012 finals has been a success cloaked in criticism for their lack of flair, praise in their defensive abilities that included a rigorous draw in Russia and celebration in pasting Estonia 4-0 in the first leg of the play offs. However Ireland have never been known for playing eye catching football, for passing the other team into oblivion or for having players who are playmakers and who can perform tricks and jaw dropping skills at the drop of a hat. When you play Ireland you have to get ready to be beaten physically, to have the legs chopped from under you, to face a wall of green for ninety minutes that is extremely hard to break down, and to be ready for their speedy breaks on the counter attack and their success rate at set pieces, plus their lack of fear from shooting from long range distances. Ireland are a proven international package, coined ‘The nearly men’ in world football thanks to their ability of falling at the last hurdle of qualification for major finals, the most recent being the heart breaking loss to France over 2 legs in 2009, when Thierry Henry handled the ball to set up the winning goal and cause a whole country to go into toil and grieving. Never had there been so many fully grown men crying into their pints that fateful night, never has a Frenchman been hated so much in one country. But now ‘The Nearly Men’, are finally there, and are they're on a mission, to upset the apple cart and cause some shocks. So what will be the key factors in doing this?
Ireland's Capability to Achieve The Near Impossible
Ireland have always been the underdog in world football, and they have always proven to play above their abilities, defying the critics. With Ireland being in the major finals of a tournament once more there is one thing that you can be gaurateed on, a few shock results and moments of magic in football that will make the whole world stand up and pay attention. Ever since Ray Houghton lobbed a header over the head of Peter Shilton against England on that hot summers day in June of 1988, Ireland have managed to produce moments of magic in every tournament they have appeared in...These include Ronnie Whelan's spectacular bicycle kick against Russia in that same tournament, a goal that the highest paid footballers in the world today would love to have in their locker, Ray Houghton's lobbed goal against Italy in World Cup '94 in America, defeating the eventual finalists, and Robbie Keane's last gasp equaliser against the powerful Germans in World Cup 2002 in South Korea. Whether it's a 30 yard rocket from Glenn Whelan or a Robbie Keane Volley, Ireland will pick their moment to show the world they are back on the main stage.
Ireland will be supporting their national football team in their thousands, regardless of any economic crisis happening in the country at the moment. Fans will put a second mortgage on their house, pay above the going rate for tickets, and even go so far as to trade their granny in for a chance to get to Poland. The fans are renowned for being the best in any tournament they travel to, and have won countless awards from the world governing football body FIFA, for being the best international fans in the world. Football fans from around Europe will see Ford Transit vans and camper vans roll into the polish cities of Poznan and Gdansk, and Half drunken merry Irish fans roll onto the streets with cheap cans of imported beer and a smile and a hug for anybody they encounter. They will be the ‘12th man’ for their team. You will hear the familiar chants of ‘Ole ole ole’ and ‘Come on you boys in green’ ring around the stadium, they will deafen out the fans of the opposition, they will cheer every chance and moment the Irish create, and they will spur the team on to play quality football. Ireland are a small proud nation, and nobody knows that more than the Irish football team...they will play out of their skin to please their fans. Regardless of how well the team do, the Irish fans will be leaving Poland behind with memories of their party atmosphere and Polish girls will be heartbroken, crying into their pillows at night, missing the charm and smile of her summer fling who had to return to the Emerald Isle.
Giovanni Trapattoni, the old Italian warhorse at the age of 72, is the pinnacle factor to Ireland’s success, after taking over the role as Ireland manager from Steve Staunton on the 1st of May 2008. Since his appointment, his Irish team have only lost twice and have gone on a national record of 13 games unbeaten, thanks to his rigorous style of management, which includes an Italian mentality of playing football, that mentality being to defend with 11 men behind the ball, and when possible counter attack quickly on the break to create chances and score goals. A proven manager throughout his career, he has won major trophies for any club he has managed, and is well revered by fellow managers and experts of the game. His one flaw however, was his announcement not to blood any new talent coming into the finals in June, so there is the possibility that talented young players like Seamus Coleman and James McClean might not travel with the team to Poland in the summer. He is criticized by the Irish for ‘not having a midfield’, and a lack of flair that is obviously evident when playing against technically superior teams, most notably against Russia in a qualifying match when they were outplayed for 90 minutes but still came away with a miraculous 0-0 draw, thanks to the efforts of Goalkeeper Shay Given and Defender Richard Dunne. What his team will provide however, is a defensive unit which is extremely hard to break down and who play for each other, moving up and down the pitch like military, always ever aware of each others presence and that of the opposition. This was one of the reasons why he feels new players should not be introduced just yet, because he feels it will upset the system, and they will be novices to Ireland’s style of play he has created. A master Tactician, Trapattoni has proven time and again how to get a result, with famous draws against Italy, even defeating his home country 2-0 in June of 2011, and when the time is needed, when everybody will think the team will sit back and defend for their lives, Giovanni will set them loose with attacking football like the kind they played against France in that unforgettable night in Paris.
Even with all of these contributing factors, the path to glory will not be easy for the Irish. No doubt, they are competing to win, and will not to play the three matches in Group C just to return home with their tail between their legs. But the Croatians are a technically superior side, the Spanish are the world champions and Italy will be looking for revenge on embarassing them on their last 3 encounters. But one must have hope, for without hope there will be nothing. Ireland will compete and fight blood, sweat and tears, and if their exit is premature it won't be from lack of trying, they will go down fighting. Ask any Irish fan and they will tell you the same thing, a wish for Ireland to finish second in their group and set up a possible meeting in the quarter finals against either the old enemy England, who Ireland would love to beat, or the 'new' enemy France, who Ireland would love to beat even more, after breaking their hearts in 2009. After that who knows? A place in the semi-final? Or even the final? To even win it? Ireland are the rank outsiders at 78/1 to win lift the trophy, but stranger things have happened in football, just ask Greece and Denmark. One thing is for certain, Ireland will gain a lot of fans and capture the hearts of neutrals in the summer of 2012, and show the world why they deserve to be there. C'mon Ireland!!