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The Footie File

By David McBride

Looking at Group C Through Sharock-shaped Glasses

Republic of Ireland huddle in a game against Hungary
Republic of Ireland huddle in a game against Hungary    Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

We are only days away from the European Championships.  Ireland will play in Group C against Spain, Ireland and Croatia.  So in an attempt to fill our hearts with hope, let us don our Shamrock-shaped spectacles and take an game-by-game look at how Ireland can succeed.

Croatia (June 10 Poznan, Poland)

This game is likely Ireland’s best chance at a win, and the true optimist will be happy to play this game first.  Head Coach Giovanni Trapattoni has had quite a long time to prepare for this one, and you can bet the team will be ready.

Croatia has a few very good players, including midfielder Luka Modric and more than one capable striker.  But their weakness is in defense, which may just play into Trapattoni’s hands.  Croatia will get forward, and will have the lion’s share of possession.  But Ireland will have more than one chance to expose Croatia’s defenders on the counter-attack.  If the Irish can get a goal early, their defensive organization just might be able to hold the lead.

Spain (June 15 Gdansk, Poland)

Okay, trying to spin this game in an optimistic light is nearly impossible.  Spain are good, perhaps the best ever.  But we must have hope, so here it goes...

This tournament, Spain will be without the injured Carlos Puyol and David Villa, which means they will be playing without two players who have been very important to their recent success.  Yes, there are good players lining up to take their place, but you simply never know how they will blend in to teams chemistry.  Also, the Spanish must be exhausted.  Most of these players have played an unbelievably large number of games in recent years and it just has to catch up with them sooner or later.  And finally, these hopefully-knackered Spaniards will only have a few days rest after playing Italy and may just be nursing something of a hangover.  While I admit this is an enormous mountain to climb, grinding out a draw just might be possible.

Italy (June 18 Poznan, Poland)

If Ireland manages a win against Croatia, then it may very well all come down to this match.  And something tells me that if Trapattoni could pick one world football powerhouse to play in a situation as big as this, he would pick Italy.

The Irish have never been intimidated by Italy, with some famous results over the years to prove it.  But this is a different Italy, an attacking Italy willing to go forward rather than play the classic defensive style they invented.  And here is where this match can play into Ireland’s hands, as the Italians will have to beat that famous Catenaccio style.  And with the team under yet another corruption cloud, it is easy to see Ireland fighting out a draw or even nicking a close victory.

So, at the risk of sounding like I am looking at this through a pint of green beer, here is how this can happen.  After a win against Croatia, Ireland can play with abandon against Spain, knowing that the match with Italy is where the group will be decided.  If I were Trap, I would consider rotating the squad a bit against Spain, and face Italy with a fresher group of players than the Italians can muster.  A result against Italy might just be enough to get Ireland through.  I will admit the scenario is improbable, but have hope my friends!  It is far from impossible.

At the risk of sounding cliche, there is no such thing as an easy group in the European Championships.  There are really only two types of groups; very hard and ridiculously hard.  Whether you are an optimist or pessimist this fact remains.  But the x-factor this year is that we are not yet certain which category Group C falls into, and that may just be the opening Ireland needs to pull of the improbably and shock a football giant on their way to knock-out stages.


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