Republic of Ireland can mirror strong qualifying campaign to enjoy gallant Euro 2016 run
Lee Gormley | April 16, 2016
Irish out to mirror qualifying campaign
The Republic of Ireland impressively sealed their Euro 2016 fate with a successful play-off tie against Bosnia and Herzegovina last November, following a double of gallant results over world champions Germany, and will look to emulate those performances when they embark on their journey in France.
Martin O’Neill’s men finished behind Germany and Poland in their qualifying Group D before play-off success, and have been drawn within seemingly testing standings for the tournament, kicking their travels off with a Sweden clash, then facing Belgium and finally Italy.
The Boys in Green showed their guile in qualifying by taking four points off 2014 World Cup winners Germany and will need to muster up the same organised showings in order to earn progression from a tough Group E, which they are 9/1 with Coral to win.
Hendrick backs battling Irish to succeed
Ireland will take to French soil with nothing to lose, as many critics expect them to falter at the first hurdle among challenging nations but, with such a talented and driven squad of players, O’Neill will be confident of proving doubters wrong.
How does Coral football ambassador Alan Shearer rate the Republic’s chances? Have a listen below:
The Irish witnessed many players stand up and be counted for in their qualifying outings, with Derby County midfielder Jeff Hendrick emerging as one of the key aspects of successfully reaching a second successive European Championship.
Hendrick recently admitted the promising results against World Cup holders Germany and play-off success against Bosnia and Herzegovina will last long in his memory, but he is confident his country can emulate those types of performances when it matters most this summer against sides that possess ‘special players’.
“Hopefully we can mirror that in the tournament…”
“Belgium have a special group of players and you know they are going to be a tough team,” said the Rams midfield ace. “Italy coming into tournaments are always hard to beat and Sweden with [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic, they are going to be good as well.
“But we have nothing to lose playing against three big countries like that. We will be looking forward to it and we will take confidence from what we did in the group.
“Taking four points off Germany, the world champions, is special, so hopefully we can mirror that in the tournament against them big countries.”
A bright start will be needed this time around though, with Ireland having got their previous Euro 2012 campaign under former boss Giovanni Trapattoni off to the worst possible scenario, conceding just three minutes into their opener against Croatia.
Starting Swedish success key to progress
Following that early strike from Mario Mandzukic, former Irish defender Sean St Ledger netted the equaliser, but his goal was ultimately their only successful attempt in the eventual 4-1 defeat, and in their overall disappointing group stage exit.
The Irish are 2/1 to overcome a Zlatan Ibrahimovic led Swedish outfit in their crucial Euro 2016 opener, in what could be a decisive meeting in the race for progression to the knockout stages.
Former internationals Richard Dunne and Damien Duff may have retired, but the likes of John O’Shea, Glenn Whelan, Aiden McGeady and Robbie Keane could be surviving members of the side that started against Croatia four years ago, while Jonathan Walters and Shane Long also featured, and are likely to star in France.
Long relishing Euro chance
The latter Southampton striker was a pivotal player for O’Neill in getting to this summer’s showcase event and the Premier League poacher is hoping for more involvement this time around, having been restricted to two late substitute appearances against Croatia and Italy in 2012 under Trapattoni.
“I didn’t play as much as I would have liked out there [in Poland and Ukraine]. It was a nice experience going to the Euros but I had only 10 or 15 minutes on the pitch,” stated the Tipperary-born attacker.
“In this qualifying campaign I felt like I was a lot more involved. I scored a few goals and had a lot more game time. Hopefully I can make a bit of a difference out there. Getting out of the group is obviously the first aim and we will see from there.”
Robbie Keane was the main man in the frontline for Ireland during their disastrous 2012 campaign but, having endured a series of niggling injury setbacks and now at 35 years of age, Long is the most likely first-choice striker in June, and he is an outside 100/1 for a Golden Boot success.
O’Neill future still in doubt
After overseeing Ireland’s impressive run to France alongside assistant Roy Keane, O’Neill’s future after the Euros is still shrouded in doubt, though the FAI will be keen to tie up a new deal for the Derry-born boss so he can continue on through 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
“Loads of things can happen between now and then and there’s no point in turning around and telling you that there’s an absolute degree of certainty about anything,” outlined O’Neill.
“What we want to do is not only try to enjoy the Euros if it’s at all possible, but also try to make some sort of progress there as well, so we will see how things go. But who knows?”
The Irish manager will hope to enjoy a successful summer before thinking too much about what the future holds for himself in the dugout, as his side aim to build upon their encouraging qualifying campaign and start brightly on French turf this coming June.