Our Euro 2012 coverage begins with a preview of Group C. Here we assess group outsiders the Republic of Ireland’s chances.
Giovanni Trapattoni’s side need a near miracle if they are to emerge from their “group of death”.
The Republic of Ireland kick off against Croatia, before taking on current World and European Champions Spain and 2006 World Cup winners Italy. However, the Republic do come into the Euros in great form, unbeaten in their last nine games including an impressive 1-0 win over Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Trapattoni will be hoping number one goalkeeper Shay Given can make a quick recovery from his knee injury that kept him out of that 1-0 victory.
Star Man: Robbie Keane
The inspirational Ireland captain was in great goalscoring form during the qualifying for this tournament, scoring seven goals in 11 games and Irish hopes will rest on the shoulders of the LA Galaxy striker.
Chances will be few and far between for Ireland in their games and Keane will have to be in sharp form if Ireland are to make it through the group stage.
Rising Star: James McClean
McClean has been one of the surprise packages in the Premier League, making a huge impact during the second half of the season under Martin O’Neil for Sunderland.
Although born in Northern Ireland and appearing for them up to Under-21 level, McClean answered Trapattoni’s call in February to make his first appearance for Ireland.
Despite only making two appearances for the national side, his performances in the Premier League have earned him his place at Euro 2012 and his direct style could give Ireland a chance.
The Manager: Giovanni Trapattoni
One of the most successful managers in Serie A history, 73-year-old Trapattoni took over the Ireland national team in 2008 to lead the country through qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
He took them to a play-off game against France where Thierry Henry’s controversial hand ball saw France through.
Trapattoni stayed with Ireland for qualifying for Euro 2012 where again they made the play-offs after losing just once. This time though , Ireland comfortably beat Estonia and made it through to only their second European Championship finals.
Prediction: Group Stages
It’s difficult to see Ireland picking up a single point in this tough group, however, a recently friendly draw with Croatia will give them confidence. Ireland have a goalscorer in Robbie Keane, but the stregnth of the rival teams will be too much for Trapattoni’s side.