All set for The Euros

The party of European football's finest starts in only eight days time when France take on Romania at the Stade de France. It is hard to believe the tournament is so close on the horizon. However, one must remember that Galway and the rest of the province were so consumed by the exploits of Pat Lam's heroes in green that pretty much every other aspect of life in the west took a back seat.

However these championships will soon capture the public's imagination with four teams from these Isles taking part, and with Leicester City winning the Premier League and Connacht claiming the Guinness Pro 12, who is to say that we are not in for another special sporting surprise in France.

Ireland makes its third appearance at the championships and playing in its sixth international tournament in total, after overcoming Bosnia and Herzegovina in a play-off last December. Our brothers to the North have awoken from their 30 year siesta, taking advantage of a moderate qualifying group to make their first international competition since Mexico '86. Our cousins Wales, have waited even longer to show their faces again at a tournament; 1958 was the last time the dragon breathed fire on the big stage. And of course, our noisy and sometimes intolerable neighbours, England, already have the Henri Delaunay Trophy in the bag so what's the point even bothering with the whole thing altogether?

The contenders

But enough of the bluster. Let's get down to business. Who will march down the Champs-Élysées proclaiming themselves the rulers of Europe after being victorious at the Stade de France on July 10?

The Germans; they have done it before and they will do it again; winning football competitions that is, and Joachim Löw's men are World Champions. They are in a group with Poland, Ukraine, and Northern Ireland and anything other than nine points from the three matches would be a shock. The retired Philip Lahm's captaincy is a big loss but the Germans have quality throughout the squad. Detractors will point to defeats by England and Slovakia in recent outings. However those were friendlies and 'Die Mannschaft' are a tournament team, reaching at least the semi-final stage in five of the seven international competitions that have taken place this century.

France; the home team can never be discounted. Home support is crucial at championships and UEFA will want the host nation to do well to keep public interest high so do not be surprised if some questionable decisions go the way of Les Bleus. Manager Didier Deschamps will be hoping his 'révolution' will continue in earnest. With Paul Pogba strutting around the centre of the park; Dimitri Payet scoring free-kicks for fun, and the ever dangerous Karim Benzema up front, France have a chance. On a side note Deschamps captained France to a World Cup win on home soil in 1998; are the stars aligning for a French victory?

Spain; La Roja had a dreadful time in Brazil two years ago but they are defending Euro champions and will not want to surrender their European title as tamely as they did with their global one. Spanish football clubs are strong at present with Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid contesting the Champions League final last Saturday and Sevilla winning the Europa League the week previous. The experienced Vicente del Bosque will surely find a half decent 11 out of those three teams, never mind those available from Barcelona to compete for the cup.

Dark horses

Belgium; they have Eden Hazard back on form after the Chelsea winger sulked at Stamford Bridge for the year. The wide man is a match winner and with the strong team around him the Red Devils can go far.

Italy; why the Azzurri you ask? It isn't for their footballing ability. Just the fact that Italian football is embroiled in another football scandal regarding tax evasion. And as history shows when the Italians are having problems with the footballing authorities à la 1982 and 2006; they win.

Put 'em under pressure

And what hope for the Republic? Qualifying for a tournament is always a major achievement for Ireland and there is a great satisfaction that we are going to France. Martin O'Neill's men will have to beat Sweden on June 13 at the scene of many a miserable night for Irish sport; the Stade de France. Four days later it is Belgium in Bordeaux, and Italy in Lille on June 22. It is a tough group for Ireland but with the four best third place finishes qualifying for the last 16, three points against Ibrahimovic and co may be enough.

Can they can go the whole way? No. They do not have a chance. But then again neither did Leicester nor Connacht. Come on you boys in green.

Ireland v Sweden, June 13 17:00

Ireland v Belgium, June 18 14:00

Ireland v Italy, June 22 20:00

 

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