by Mark Owens
The waiting is finally over as the 2012 European Championships being held jointly in Poland and Ukraine are upon us. The buzz around Ireland and beyond since the team qualified for their 1st tournament since the 2002 World Cup has been immense. In looking back at how Ireland qualified for what is only their 2nd European Championships, they were just edged out by Russia in Qualification Group B, but after beating Estonia in the play offs, they will are full of confidence going into Euro 2012.
The Irish have been handed a tough draw after being placed in Euro 2012 Group C with defending champions Spain, Italy and Croatia. It is crucial that they get off to a good start against Croatia on June 10th in order to have any hope of progressing to the latter, knock-out stages. In playing reigning champions Spain and former World champions Italy, the Irish will have their work cut out for them against 2 of Europe’s football powerhouses.
Spain will start as a tournament favourite. The team, managed by Vicente del Bosque, have beaten every team they have faced and were impressive in qualification for this year’s tournament, winning every game on the road to Poland and Ukraine. The Spanish side is loaded with world-class players in every position and many of them were part of the Spanish National team that won the last Euro’s in 2008, as well as the World Cup in 2010.
With this level of experience, the bookmakers are justified in making Spain the outright favourites to win it all once again. Let’s hope they get it wrong!! At the time of going to press, it was rumoured that star defender Carles Puyol would likely miss the Championships due to recovering from knee surgery that took place in late May. Definitely a blow for the Spanish, but it gives more hope to Robbie Keane and the rest of the Irish team.
The Italian’s are one of those teams that you just don’t know what you’re going to get or see when it comes to the big dance. In every tournament, they are amongst the favourites to win it all; they have the players with the talent and they have some of the most passionate fans in all of sports, but with all this come’s pressure from a nation that assumes they will always win. Given that they last appearance in a major tournament, the 2012 World Cup, ended in early elimination in the group stages, the pressure is definitely on coach Cesare Prandelli to make up for what was an embarrassing appearance in South Africa.
Croatia is an unknown quantity, and indeed like Ireland, they too qualified for the 2012 Euro’s via the play-off route. They defeated Turkey 3-0 over two games to book they ticket to Poland-Ukraine. Last time around (2008 Euro’s) the Croatians lost in a heart-breaking penalty shoot-out loss to Turkey, ironically the team they defeated in a playoff this year to get into the Finals.
For those of you that follow the English Premier League, the player to look out for in the Croatian team is Luka Modric, who plays for Tottenham Hotspur. Croatia will look for him to replicate the form that has made him a target for English Premier League rivals Chelsea. A big weakness will likely be there defence.
Last month Irish manager Giovanni Trapattoni announced his twenty-three man squad, that he hopes will lead the team and country to European glory. Probably the biggest surprise in the team is that of Derry man James McClean, who if you all remember just a few months ago I stated that Trapp could not justify leaving him out, such has been his impact in the English Premier League … maybe the Irish manager is a closet reader of the Ohio Irish American News?
The following are the twenty-three men that have been charged with bringing it all back home: Goalkeepers: Shay Given, Keiren Westwood, David Forde. Defenders: Richard Dunne, John O’Shea, Sean St. Ledger, Darren O’Dea, Stephen Ward, Stephen Kelly, Kevin Foley. Midfielders:
Glenn Whelan, Darron Gibson, Keith Andrews, Keith Fahey. Wingers: Damien Duff, Aiden McGeady, Stephen Hunt, James McClean. Strikers: Robbie Keane, Kevin Doyle, Simon Cox, Shane Long, Jonathan Walters.
We wish them luck and I look forward to welcoming the team home in Dublin with trophy in hand since I will in fact be in Ireland right around that time …. Now wouldn’t I be lucky if this were the case?
Opening game schedules and times: Sunday June 10th v Croatia (1445 EST); Thursday June 14th v Spain (1445 EST); Monday June 18th v Italy (1445 EST). Here’s my prediction … we beat Croatia, lose to Spain and tie with Italy to finish 2nd in the group on goal difference. This would set up a quarter final match against ‘The Enemy’, England, where the Irish will prevail. After this … who knows, I’ll be happy just beating England once again!
First last month’s question: The Scottish sport of Shinty can trace its origins back to another sport in Ireland, what is that sport? The answer is: Hurling. Shinty is older than the recorded history of Scotland. It is thought to predate Christianity, having come to Scotland with the Gaels from Ireland. Hurling, which is a similar game to Shinty, is derived from the historic game common to both peoples, which has been a distinct Irish pastime for at least 2,000 years. Shinty/Hurling appears prominently in the legend of Cúchulainn, the Celtic mythology hero.
This month’s question: Who is the current top goal scorer for the Irish international football team?
*Mark Owens is originally from Derry City, Ireland and has resided in the Cleveland area since 2001 where he is employed by State Farm Insurance Companies. Mark is the Chairman of the 2013 North American Gaelic Games Finals to be held in Cleveland. Send questions, comments or suggestions for future articles to Mark at: email@example.com.