1988 – That was the last time the Republic of Ireland qualified for the UEFA European Championship. 24 years on, the Irish army led by the shrewd Italian Giovanni Trapattoni made it to the Euros courtesy of a 5-1 aggregate victory over Estonia in the play-offs after finishing second to Russia in their qualifying group, scoring 20 goals and conceding eight. With most of the squad plying their trade in the English divisions of league football, their physical dominance and the threat they pose from set pieces is perhaps the only worrying concern for their opponents.
However, with Shay Given in goal, and a back four comprising of former Manchester United defender John O’Shea, Aston Villa’s Richard Dunne, Leicester’s Sean St. Ledger and Wolves’ Stephen Ward, Trapattoni will look to implement an ‘Italianised’ style of play. While the defence and midfield is expected to park the bus in front of their goal, Everton’s Darron Gibson can spray those balls out wide, towards either of Aiden McGeady or Damien Duff. While Duff brings a lot of experience with him, McGeady’s acceleration and dribbling down the left wing can be a cause for concern. Robbie Keane will start in attack and will be partnered by Kevin Doyle.
The squad is lacking in quality, and with not a single player in their ranks with a ‘world-class’ status, it won’t be surprising if Euro 2012 ends in humiliation for the Boys in Green. However, the presence of a wily-old tactician can be of some effect, given the experience Trapattoni brings with him. Assistant Marco Tardelli is also an important figure in the dressing room, and the partnership on the bench is as instrumental as any other on the pitch for the Irish, providing the inspiration that has brought them success over the years. Robbie Keane will be heavily relied on for goals, but with the striker’s aging legs, it’s hard to see if the Republic can get anything out of the tournament.