Don’t Go Booking Return Flights From Poland Just Yet….

How nice of UEFA. Every team gets a cheery “good luck” in their native language, except for Ireland. UEFA General Secretary Infantini forgets at first, and then when he remembers, all he’s learnt is “Fáilte”. We don’t get good luck, we get “Welcome”. Be happy to be here, intrepid Irish footballers, luck won’t get you much further. Back to the Gaeltacht with you Mr Infantini.

Go n-eiri… Go n-eiri… Ah feck it (

Spain, Italy, Ireland and Croatia in Group C. Not quite the Group of Debt, and perhaps most importantly, not quite the Group of Death either. That dubious honour goes to Group B, where Netherlands, Germany, Portugal and Denmark square off.
So what of Ireland’s chances? Once you’ve picked yourself  off the floor, think rationally for a second. Croatia are first up, on June 10th in Poznan. There is undoubted quality in this Croatian side – 8th in the latest Fifa Rankings – with the Spurs triumvarate of Modric, Kranjcar, and Corluka prominent. Up front Slaven Bilic can take his pick of the former Arsenal striker Eduardo, Bayern Munich’s Ivica Olic and Hamburger’s Mladen Petric. The Boys in Green met Croatia recently in a scoreless friendly in the Aviva, and the Balkan side will hold no terror for Trappatoni’s men. 
Modric. Midfield Maestro (
The current Spanish team is like a good boxer. They hold all the belts. Reigning World and European champions, they could field their second team and still have a decent chance in next summer’s competition. If, true to form, Trappatoni chooses Andrews and Whelan as his central midfield partnership next year, then they will be up against the superlative Barcelona pair of Iniesta and Xavi. There is no point in saying that this will be anything less than a horrendous mismatch of styles, but neither is there any denying that the Irish pair wil not be found wanting for effort around the middle of the park.At the back, Richard Dunne would want to don the same number 5 jersey he wore in Moscow as he will face the might of David Villa and the enigma that is Fernando Torres. The hope for Ireland is that this game is book-ended by two positive results against the Croats and Italians.
Time For The Rosary Beads (
In the last 3 meetings between Ireland and Italy, there have been two competitive draws (both in the last World Cup Qualifying Campaign) and a win for an understrength Irish team in a friendly in Italian soil. Italy are largely dependent on veteran Alessandro Pirlo to dictate the way they play, and there is little to fear up front either. Guiseppi Rossi is perhaps the most potent of their strike force, and the Villarreal man is out with a long term injury. He might make it onto the plane to Poland, but whether or not he will be match sharp is another thing entirely. The last time Ireland played Italy in a major championship, Paul McGrath immortalised himself in Irish football folklore, and Ray Houghton scored a goal that gets replayed on YouTube more times than a Lady Gaga video. Eamonn Dunphy thinks that 4 points may be enough for a team to emerge as runners up in Group C, and if Ireland were to manage even a draw with Croatia, then the Italy game has the potential to be winner takes all. 
Rossi…Fit In Time? (
From the point of view of the fans, once the shock of being drawn with Spain has subsided, there are more positives than negatives to be taken from tonights’ draw. For one, Ireland play two games in Poznan, and the Spanish in Gdansk. Of the 8 host cities, these two Polish cities are the closest together. Logistically this is dreamland for the travelling Green Army. If the Celtic Tiger left one lasting legacy apart from a crap economy, it is a strong link with people from Eastern Europe, and Poland in particular. Irish fans have been welcomed almost anywhere they have travelled with the team, and hopefully can rely on incredible hospitality from their Polish hosts next summer.
Poznan Stadium. Picture It Green (
Finally, no matter what your feelings are on the draw, the main thing is that Ireland were in it. We are half a year from this country’s first appearance in a European Championship for 24 years. Come what may, the fact that Keane, Dunne et al will get a chance to pit their talents against the three incredible teams is worth celebrating.
 Savour the build up, stock up on flags and facepaint, watch as the English media build up their team for another fall. From the 10th to the 18th of June next year, the economy will be off the front pages of our newspapers. Cue empty streets, crowded pubs, and a nation falling in love with football all over again. Cue a quarter final against England which we win on penalties. Heroes will arise, songs will be penned, and replica jerseys donned for days on end. The good times are just around the corner.

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