Smith on the EUROs: Republic of Ireland will surprise us and qualify

Robbie Keane will spearhead the Republic's attack

Robbie Keane will be part of  the Republic’s squad

Former Colorado Rapids, Stevenage and Atlanta head coach, Gary Smith will be bringing us his thoughts on the four home countries; England, Wales, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland as the start of the tournament approaches.

In this first article, he previews the Irish Republic who qualified from a group featuring Germany, Poland, Georgia, Gibraltar and Scotland.

Smith on the EUROs: the Republic of Ireland

by Gary Smith

The summer is officially upon us and with it comes the hot, sticky and humid weather, well it is in Atlanta. If you’re back in the UK expect the usual mixed bag of wind, showers and a week of pumping hot weather that has everyone clambering for the portable fans. 

Most importantly of course is the close season around the World and with it comes the most prestigious international tournaments outside the World Cup. In the US Copa America is already under way and in France the build up to the European Championships is in full swing.  Teams have finalized their squads, friendlies are complete and starting line ups are all but set, except for those border line decisions or last minute injuries.

With England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Rep Ireland all making it to the finals, I wanted to take a closer look at the challenge that lies ahead and their respective chances of making it out of the group stages and possibly a push for the final.

Let’s start with the Republic of Ireland.

Much was made of tiny Northern Ireland’s qualification and rightly so but for some reason the Republic of Ireland got nowhere near the accolades they deserved for making it to the finals. 

An opening win against Georgia in their back yard was a fantastic start to the campaign. Every nation would have been hoping that they could get off to a good start and to win away set the tone for the Irish. They were unbeaten against the world champions Germany, with a late goal away from home to grab a valuable point and a memorable win in Dublin that must go down as one of the all-time great results in Irish history. 

A draw at home to Scotland was disappointing, the Irish had lost a tight 1-0 at Hampden and it seemed that nothing short of 3 points would keep their hopes alive for qualification, but the Scots lost in Georgia and the Irish took advantage of the slip, also posting more points from the Germans than their Celtic neighbours.

Martin O’Neill rallied the troops and got the results that put them back in contention for France.  In a very tough group it was going to take something special to make the Euros and the team proved it had the stomach for the fight.

For their efforts they have been handed arguably the toughest group at the Euro Championships.  Italy, Belgium and Sweden await them, but under the leadership of Martin O’Neill, the General Patton of the Euros, anything is possible.  Alongside Martin, ironically a Northern Irishman, is a wealth of experience, knowledge and just as importantly trust.   I

In Roy Keane he has a fierce competitor and a coach that commands respect, Steve Walford and Seamus McDonagh have been at Martin’s side as loyal aides for many years and their honest opinion and advice has always offered food for thought when most needed. 

Lastly Steve Guppy my own longtime friend and assistant, has added some creative qualities to the mix with bright and exciting ideas for the forwards and wide players, to gain those valuable percentages in the attacking third of the field.  It’s a great balance of individuals and it has work wonderfully.

Martin has tactically got the team in great shape, the style suits perfectly the players at his disposal and the group look happy with the way they are being asked to play.  Whilst this team don’t have the depth of the other bigger nations, every player in the squad will understand the role that is need when called upon and that unity has served the team extremely well to this point.

There are two big questions for me to see the Irish progress out of the group.

  1. Goals have been hard to come by throughout the qualifiers and whilst the Irish have a steadfast back line they will need to find the back of the net more often to be capable of escaping the tough group stages.
  1. A win v’s Sweden in the opening group game looks to be a huge 3 pts already for both teams with Italy and Belgium to follow. Both teams will see this as a must win I’m sure, this one will need to go their way to have a chance of progressing.

My prediction, Martin O’Neill pulls off another miracle and they progress. (That might be my heart ruling my head)

Also see:

Smith on EURO2016: Gareth Bale can pull Wales through the group


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