Denis Irwin: Ireland can reach Euro 2016 knockout stages

Sport360 staff 10:00 13/06/2016
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Can Ireland qualify from their group?

Whatever the Republic of Ireland do, you know they’ll fight. They’re in a tough group but they’ll play together as a team. That’s the one thing we can be assured will happen. At the last European Championships they were hugely disappointing and, as a result, I think Ireland will go to France not expecting a lot, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they got through to the last 16, because they’ve got a togetherness. But they’ll need everybody fit to have any chance of getting through.

I think this is only the fifth tournament Ireland have been to in all so they’ll be really looking forward to it and Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane will be well prepared. We might not have the best squad but they’ll make it a battle for every team. We’re not going there to make the numbers up, not at all. Belgium are ranked very high and have a fabulous team on paper, but haven’t lived up to their potential yet. They’ll be under pressure because a lot’s expected of them. Sweden are like us, they’ve obviously got Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front but not a lot else.

Italy will always be hard to play. They’re maybe not the best team but they’ll be organized and tough to beat, they always are. They always do well at big tournaments. The first game against Sweden is huge.

The Irish have always enjoyed playing on the big stage and you know we’ll have tremendous support. Facing Italy in the final group match is sure to bring back memories of World Cup 1994 and our famous 1-0 victory…although hopefully not the first memory I have of the game.

Ireland's group matches

  • June 13 - Sweden (20:00 GST)
  • June 18 - Belgium (17:00 GST)
  • June 22 - Italy (23:00 GST)

We were drawn as the away team so we’re in white, playing Italy, who obviously play in blue. We go out into the tunnel, they come out, (Franco) Baresi, (Paolo) Maldini, looking really smart. We’re a scruffy bunch of Irish lads, and they’re wearing white as well. The biggest game of our lives and we’re wearing the same colours!

Because we’re an amateur association, our kit man’s got it wrong. We’ve got to hop back into the changing room and change everything. If you look at the official team photograph there’s only 10 players on the field. Terry Phelan’s missing, still in the changing rooms trying to find his shirt. It was always a great honour playing for your country and we always had a bit of fun in the days under Jack Charlton.

We had some great players and I think we could have done better if we’d had a football manager. Jack was a bit of a dinosaur and his training methods were really old, but he qualified us for the 1988 Euros and 1990 and 1994 World Cups. However, look at the players we had; Roy Keane, Andy Townsend, Steve Staunton, Ray Houghton, Paul McGrath, Terry Phelan, John Sheridan… all top players at top clubs in England. I think if we’d have played a footballing style we’d have done an awful lot better.

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