It’s a very difficult group to come out of, but Irish teams play well when they’re confident. After their road through qualification, they definitely sound confident. The key to the group is the first game against Croatia. To get a result there will be incredibly important, especially with Spain and Italy battling it out on the same day. Trapattoni will have the group ready to go for their final match against Italy, but it could be a meaningless one unless we pull something off against Croatia.
Thing is, players use the European Championships as a type of shop window. With Modric potentially on the transfer market from Tottenham, he will be trying to showcase his skills to buyers. If Modric cuts himself loose, I don’t know too many players who are more talented.
Meanwhile, I don’t see view this Spanish side as the Spanish team that everyone keeps telling me they are. Defensive stalwart Carles Puyol is out, offensive juggernaut David Villa is out, and trusty defender Gerard Pique has fallen off his game. With all of those guys out or struggling, and playmakers Xavi and Andres Iniesta worn out from a long season, Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque is going to have a rough time picking a squad.
Tommy’s Take: This is a Spanish team that clearly relies on style and flair, much like Barcelona did in the Champions League. For me, there’s no reason a defensive-minded Irish team can’t be the Chelsea of this tournament by stifling Spain’s attacks for a long time and eventually seizing their chances.
How about the play of all-time leading scorer Robbie Keane? How do you see him motivating those around him?
The big thing for Ireland is that Robbie Keane has to be on his game. His recent form with the LA Galaxy hasn’t been promising, which is making fans nervous. We can hope that we don’t have to bank on Keane’s performance, but at the same time as he goes, so will we.
Apart from Keane, I feel this is a huge tournament for Damien Duff and Aiden McGeady. If they can get balls in with a little bit more accuracy, we can cause huge problems for a lot of teams in the tournament. Richard Dunne at the back will be wildly important. If we lose our defensive shape, this team simply doesn’t have the speed to be able to recover. If they lose their shape then they’re in real trouble. They more or less need to play errorless football.
The one thing about Trapattoni is that his managing style is very cautious. From a manager’s perspective, it doesn’t mean a pinch of salt how you go about winning, as long as you get the result. They aren’t looking for entertainment, they just want to win. If Ireland won the Euros with six men standing in front of the goal, I’m pretty sure the country wouldn’t mind that at all.
What’s the potential for this Irish team?
With a win in the first game win, the sky is the limit. A first game loss and forget about it. All we can do is go out and play for the three points wherever we can find them.
For the tournament as a whole, do you have any players for us to look out for?
Young Italian Sebastian Giavinco scored 15 goals this year for Parma and could have one heck of a tournament. Russian star Andrei Arshavin should use the tournament as a chance to showcase himself. When he came up, he was meant to be the next Marco van Basten yet never lived up to it. I could see him coming out and making a big impact.
So who do you see coming out of each group and, at the end of three weeks, who do you think will be crowned Champions of Europe?
From Group A I’ll go with Poland and Russia. Group B has so much firepower but I’ll stick with Germany and the Netherlands. For a shocker, I’m going to go with Italy and Ireland to come from Group C, and from Group D, I’ll bet on France and England. At the end of the day though, I can definitely see Germany putting together a brilliant run and winning the whole thing.
Tommy Smyth will continue to offer insight into Euro 2012 to the Irish Emigrant throughout the tournament. You can follow him on Twitter at @TommySmythESPN.