Can Ireland escape the group stages?

It is an exciting time for the Ireland football team and their supporters, as they count down the days until they take on Croatia to kick off their Euro 2012 campaign on Sunday. They will be pumped up ahead of their first major tournament since 2002, but do they have what is needed to advance out of their group and into the knockout stages?

Ireland have been drawn in group C along with Spain, Croatia and Italy, arguably one of the strongest in the tournament. A lot of upsets can happen in this group and I feel each team has the potential to beat the rest. If we are to assume that Spain to grab the top spot in this group, I feel Ireland have a good a chance as Italy and Croatia to grab second. Croatia are the dark horses, but are now even darker horses after losing Bayner Munich striker Ivica Olic through injury. Italy still have the potential to do well in the competition, but have lost that touch of class they had a few years ago.

So, what do Ireland offer on the pitch to aid their quest to a successful Euro campaign? They have an elite and experienced goalie to provide the rest of the team a solid platform to work from. Given has 121 caps for his country over 400 in the premier league. He played the first half of Ireland’s warm-up game against Hungary last night, and should be fit enough to start in goal against Croatia.

However good a goalie is, they need a solid back 4 in front of them. A back 4 consisting of O’Shea, St. Ledger, Dunne and Ward boasts a nice blend of youth and experience. Ireland have conceded just 18 goals in their last 26 games, including 11 clean sheets. If that stat doesn’t prove that they can defend, what does?

With a great goalkeeper and a very strong back 4, can Ireland score enough goals to do well in the tournament? This is the aspect of their game that could in the end hurt them. Spain try and play a lot of their football in the centre of the pitch and rarely exploit the flanks, meaning Ireland are likely to deploy a ‘park-the-bus’ game plan, finding goals hard to come by. However, against both Croatia and Italy, the Irish will choose to play a much more expansive game, getting the ball out wide to their prominent wingers, Duff and McGeady. Who do Duff and McGeady have as their targets? Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle, who have over 500 premiership appearances between them.

Could Centre-Forwards Become Extinct?

Ireland are definitely a team to watch in this years tournament. A wide-open group could easily see them grab second place. A starting 11 providing valuable experience and skilful youth accompanied by a manager with the tactical know-how may just be enough to provide Ireland with the successful campaign that they thoroughly deserve.

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