Originally from Co. Louth, Tommy Smyth has been with ESPN for twenty years offering coverage on almost all soccer events. He contributes extensively to ESPNSoccernet’s Press Pass, provides commentary for Italian Serie A matches, and will be featured throughout ESPN’s upcoming Euro 2012 coverage. He can be found on Twitter at @TommySmythESPN
With no major tournament experience since they punched above their weight at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea, Ireland arrives at the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine without the same amount of fanfare and expectation as Group C opponents Spain, Italy, and Croatia. Yet the Boys in Green have enjoyed a surprisingly steady qualification campaign, losing only once and finishing just two points behind group-winners Russia. Here with his analysis of the Irish team, as well as the whole tournament, is ESPN commentator and Co. Louth native, Tommy Smyth.
Going into the tournament, what are your expectations for how Poland and Ukraine will be able to handle it?
This question comes up before almost every tournament. Sure, Poland and Ukraine don’t have the same amenities as a Germany or Portugal, but they have enough experience with big football matches to pull it off. All of the matches will be on ESPN so I hope the journalists and reporters will be able to make it easily around the country!
Let’s move on to the matches. Group A, with Poland, the Czech Republic, Greece, and Russia, is clearly one of the weakest groups in recent championship memory. Can any of the two teams who emerge out of this group make a broader impact on the tournament?
While in every tournament there is a “Group of Death”, I’ve dubbed this one the “Group of Life”. I can honestly see any of these teams making it into the next round. Some people are giving the Russians some credit, but personally I can’t see any of these teams making any inroads into the tournament. Then again, nobody saw Greece making it far when they won the whole thing in 2004.
Tommy’s Take: With a weak group of teams that barely made it into the tournament, Poland and Russia should probably get through, almost by default.
Speaking of which, Group B been dubbed the aforementioned “Group of Death.” Perennial powerhouses Germany and Netherlands are drawn against a flashy Portugal side and a consistent Denmark squad. Do you see Portugal or Denmark stealing a spot from the superteams?
When you look at how the teams qualified, the Dutch and the Germans, they really stand out. They have a level of familiarity with each other, with, I think, something like seven members of the team playing on Bayern Munich together. Their knowledge of each others game will stand to Germany’s ability. Meanwhile, the Dutch are their own worst enemy. They always come in as one of the favorites, yet it’s been a long while since they’ve lifted any hardware. Eventually you’ve got to wonder if there’s something in their psyche that keeps them from winning.
Tommy’s Take: With the World Cup looming in Brazil, you get the feeling the Germans are going to want to collect a trophy at this tournament.
What about Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal?
The thing with the Portuguese is that this tournament is an incredible chance for Cristiano Ronaldo to stamp himself on the world game. He’ll be able to have a break out tournament where all of the attention is on him. In any other age, Ronaldo would be far and away the greatest football player in the world, but with Lionel Messi around, Ronaldo will want to use this tournament to break away from Messi’s shadow.
We’ll get to Ireland’s group, Group C, in a minute, but let’s talk about some of the intriguing matches in Group D. France and England are both coming off disappointing World Cup runs, while Sweden and Ukraine will definitely be tough outs. Is there any hope of moving out of the group stage for either the host nation or the Swedes?
England and France are the big favorites in that group – even with Rooney out for the first three games. Personally, I think that England are simply going to be a very average team. With Rooney serving the suspension, they won’t have a star to come in and take the game over, in the way a Ronaldo or a Schweinsteiger would. With Sweden, you have a player in Ibrahimovic who has the potential to carry his team. The thing with this tournament is that, if one player gets hot, he can bring everyone else with him.
Tommy’s Take: I’m certain that France are going to come out strong. This group of players has something to prove, and they know that have a chance to make amends for the calamity in South Africa.
Ireland was unlucky with their draw and are forced to try and dethrone reigning champions Spain, while holding off tough competition from Italy and Croatia. Do you see much opportunity for Ireland to make it into the second round?