The Republic of Ireland have qualified for their second consecutive European Championships, but the legions of Irish fans travelling to France will be hoping for better memories than those experienced in Poland and Ukraine four years ago.
In 2012, Giovanni Trappatoni’s side suffered an ignominious group stage exit, conceding nine goals in three defeats to Croatia, Spain and Italy.
The experienced Italian – criticised in Ireland towards the end of his tenure for his outdated tactics – made way for Martin O’Neill in 2013, and the former Aston Villa and Celtic manager is now charged with negotiating another difficult-looking group, with Belgium and Sweden joining old foes Italy to make up the opposition in Group E.
Who’s in the squad?
Ireland’s three most capped players – Shay Given, Robbie Keane and captain John O’Shea – have made the plane once again, although Fantasy iTeam managers looking to pick up a bargain should look elsewhere: nowadays, Given is back-up to Darren Randolph, Keane will start on the substitutes’ bench, amid injury concerns, and O’Shea faces competition for his place from Ciaran Clark and Richard Keogh.
Perhaps Ireland’s star man is Southampton’s Shane Long, available on Fantasy iTeam for £6.6m. For that price, fantasy football managers will get a pacy starting striker, who registered 10 goals and four assists on his way to 113 points in the EPL version of the game last summer.
Similarly important to Ireland’s hopes is Jon Walters. Joint top-scorer in qualifying with five goals, Walters scored twice against Bosnia-Herzegovina in the play-offs to book his nation’s place in France. With Keane in reserve, he looks set to take the penalties this summer, and he can be yours for £6.4m.
Ireland’s midfield isn’t the most creative, with Glenn Whelan and James McCarthy (both £5.5m) likely to play deep and break up the play. However, 34-year-old Wes Hoolahan (£5.7m) will finally get the chance to play in a major tournament and, after managing four goals and nine assists for relegated Norwich last season, he could well be a high points scorer.
In goal, Randolph (£5.3m) probably won’t keep too many clean sheets, given the quality of the opposition, but he does have a penchant for saving penalties: while playing for Motherwell, he kept out four spot-kicks in one season! Seamus Coleman and Robbie Brady (both £5.8m) are relatively cheap options for those looking for attack-minded full-backs, although Brady is listed in the game as a midfielder.
Who do they face?
The Republic are 5/4 to emerge from their group, and that’s with the possibility of three out of four teams advancing. If they are to progress, the first game, against Sweden at the Stade de France on 13th June, is a must-win.
Sweden’s talisman, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, is worshipped in the French capital, due to his goalscoring contribution for PSG over the past four years, and will be hoping to make an impact in what’s likely to be his final tournament.
Five days later, the Boys in Green will face arguably their toughest fixture, going head-to-head with Belgium in Bordeaux. The Belgian midfield is packed full of the creative, flair players Ireland are so desperately lacking, and the odds (Martin O’Neill’s side are 4/1 to win) reflect this.
Unless Ireland get off to a flyer, it’s likely that they’ll go into the final group game against Italy in Lille needing at least a point to progress. Ireland have only beaten the Azzurri twice in their history, but memorably one of these wins came in the 1994 World Cup, when Ray Houghton’s lob gave Jack Charlton a moment to celebrate.
What’s the best bet?
Ireland are 5/1 to repeat their nul points showing from 2012.
Did you know?
The Republic of Ireland are the oldest team at Euro 2016 – with Stoke keeper Given the only 40-year-old on show.
Fancy the luck of the Irish to strike in France this summer? Download the Fantasy iTeam app http://bit.ly/Play-FiT today and make sure you’ve got a green shirt in your starting XI!
This post was written by Fantasy iTeam