Making their first appearance in a European Championship since 1988, Ciaran Bonass takes a look at the Republic of Ireland odds for Euro 2012.
“You’ll rarely lose to the Irish” wouldn’t whip up much of a storm on either the terraces or the airwaves in Dublin and Poznan this summer. But as chants go it would be one of the most accurate around and sums up the reality of Ireland’s results and mentality under the stewardship of Giovanni Trapattoni quite starkly ahead of their Euro 2012 campaign.
Opinions on the Italian and his pragmatic approach to the task at hand usually rest upon one side or the other; he’s become something of a marmite manager to Ireland’s supporters since his appointment in February 2008 and you can almost tell a person’s overall outlook on life judging by their reaction to the glass-is-half-empty nature of Trap’s competitive results in the four years since – Played 24, Won 11, Drew 11, Lost 2, For 33, Against 18.
Ireland have drawn with Italy twice, Slovakia twice, Montenegro twice, Burgaria twice and France and Russia once apiece, with the final pair also accounting the only losses suffered by the Green Army along the way. Estonia – who lost more than any other side that reached the Euro 2012 playoffs – were the highest ranked side Ireland beat in a competitive fixture during that period with last November’s 4-0 drubbing in Tallinn. It’s nothing new though as an overall record of nine draws from 16 games in major tournaments proves, but beyond an unprecedented run of penalty shootout triumphs en route to glory in Kiev it would seem the massive 80/1 odds on Ireland to ‘do a Greece’ this summer are about right.
On one side of the coin Trapattoni’s conservative nature is said to be reaping rich rewards from sub-standard players and so the team’s style or lack thereof, is irrelevant when it’s results that are the be all and end all in competitive fixtures. The flip side will invariably involve accusations of being excessively negative in his methods to the point of making his team unwatchable and that, in an ‘entertainment industry’ the players are being restricted from expressing themselves to their full potential by a rigidly imposed system based on containment. A demented fervor over Trap’s exclusion of the latest flavour of the month usually accompanies the latter attitude with the role of the forsaken savior filled by James McClean, James McCarthy, Seamus Coleman, Stephen Ireland and, absurdly, Andy Reid at various intervals during Trap’s time at the helm.
Both arguments have some merit, although those blowing their trumpet to any self-righteous tune have little to complain about in the squad selected by Trapattoni, with McClean’s eagerly-anticipated inclusion confirmed, largely due to the personally enforced and sad omission of Wigan midfielder McCarthy on account of his father’s serious illness. That tragic news, along with Coleman’s injury ravaged season at Everton, put pay to any reasonable debate regarding the make-up of the squad. Also, the insistence that these personnel are capable of a much more attractive brand of football would appear to be almost entirely based on a one-off performance against France in the second leg of the World Cup playoff in 2009, one which was overshadowed somewhat by a certain Frenchman’s busy hands and the national hysteria that followed in its wake.
It should be remembered that performance in Paris, which was, unquestionably an extremely impressive one, came when Ireland had already found themselves a goal down from the home leg and were effectively in a win-or-bust situation from the kick-off, that an illegal goal denied the team not of qualification for South Africa, but another opportunity of slightly less heroic failure in the guise of a penalty shootout, would appear to have slipped between the cracks surrounding the Henry melee. Although it has to be pointed that beyond that notable exception to the rule, Ireland are painfully difficult to watch as a matter of routine.
However, Ireland have indisputably become a more organised unit under the Italian’s stewardship, it almost beggars belief that the vast majority of the players selected to line out with Trap’s blessing are identical to those who took to the field during Steve Staunton’s disorganised and comically inept spell in charge of the Irish team. Players such as John O’Shea, Damien Duff, Robbie Keane and, particularly Richard Dunne, had appeared to be beyond their best but have shown terrific resilience to recapture their form of old in many of their displays in qualifying and although they have all been fantastic professionals and highly capable performers throughout their lengthy stretches in the game, it would be an exaggeration to describe any of them as being among Europe’s best at any stage of their club careers. It certainly seems many of the player’s performances collectively at international level are a notch above their own individual standings in the club game and so Ireland can reasonably be described as being better than the sum of their modest parts and for this, if nothing else, Trapattoni deserves credit.
In the goalscoring markets, Robbie Keane, of course, is far and away the favourite to be the top scorer in green this summer and justifiably so for a player who scored more than any other three combined in qualifying, that he claims penalty duties to boot makes the 5/2 on offer appear too good to be true. The more adventurous out there might fancy a punt on Richard Dunne’s at 16/1 as his power and sheer presence from set-pieces could see him grab a goal while Shane Long has had a decent first season at West Brom and his pace and all-action style make him a worthy 6/1 shout, but in truth it looks like Keane’s from the off.
Odds of 1/6 on Ireland to be on the earliest plane home would suggest their chances of survival beyond the group stages are on a par with those of the snowballs in hell, but I’m not so sure it’s that clear cut. Trapattoni and his Croatian counterpart Slaven Bilic have earmarked each-other’s team as the one to target for three points, as it should be as a win for either in the group opener would give that side a fantastic opportunity to upset the highly-fancied pairing of Spain and Italy. Should that be Ireland, their natural instincts of damage limitation would serve them well against Spain – they’re quite used to not having the ball, at times it looks debatable if they even want it – and a narrow loss to the reigning European champions would be far from disastrous.
Trapattoni’s dream scenario of a point being sufficient for qualification for his homeland and that of his employers may be fanciful but a draw is well within the realms of possibility in that tie and the 4/1 on Ireland to qualify from the group stages for the fourth time in five major tournament appearances is worth a slight interest, beyond that though, you’re in draw country.