Team Profile: Having been robbed of a place in the 2010 World Cup by Thierry Henry’s busy hands, Ireland fans must feel the footballing gods are against them after their team was drawn in a group with holders and World Champions Spain, as well as Croatia and Italy. However, Ireland have little to fear from the world’s best, thanks in large to the stewardship of seasoned Italian coach Giovanni Trapattoni. Likewise, the experience of players such as Aston Villa keeper Shay Given and LA Galaxy striker Robbie Keane will provide inspiration to a younger crop of Irish players that includes James McClean of Sunderland. Yet all involved will need the luck of the Irish if they’re to reach the quarter-finals.
Coach: Giovanni Trapattoni
Having suggested his side could emulate Greece’s shock victory at Euro 2004, former defender and midfielder Trapattoni will have his work cut out. Not that he hasn’t any personal success as a player to draw on, having played for footballing giants AC Milan, Juventus, Inter Milan, Bayern Munich and Benfica during his career, winning seven major trophies in the process.
Player to watch: Robbie Keane
The 31-year-old Irish captain may have lost a bit of pace since his side’s last appearance in a major tournament – a full ten years ago at the 2002 World Cup – but there’s no doubting his ability to score goals. With 53 goals to his name in an Ireland shirt, he is his nation’s all-time top scorer, and 25th in the world, which is no mean feat. Having signed for LA Galaxy last August, some might say his days in the top flight are over, but at least he’ll be nicely refreshed for the tournament.
FIFA World Ranking: 18
UEFA Euro Ranking: 33
Number of Euro appearances: 13
Previous best: Quarter-finals in 1964
Qualification: Runners-up in Group B – 20 goals scored, 8 goals against, 57 attempts on target, 42 corners
Form (qualifying): WLDWWDDWWWD
Fixtures: June 10 vs. Croatia; June 14 vs. Spain; June 18 vs. Italy