POZNAN: In the wake of the 3-1 defeat at the hands of Croatia in their opening match of Euro 2012, Ireland know they will have their work cut out if they are to reach the knockout stages in their first Finals in a decade.
Outclassed by the Croats in a rain-swept Municipal Stadium here on Sunday, Ireland now have to travel north to the Baltic port of Gdansk to face defending European champions Spain on Thursday.
Then, on June 16, they are back in Poznan to meet an Italy side who showed in the 1-1 draw with the Spanish that they may have shrugged off their poor form coming into the Finals.
To add spice to their clash, it will pit Ireland’s veteran coach Giovanni Trapattoni against his compatriots.
With two powerhouses on the horizon, the Irish’s chances of reaching the last eight look slim.
“Spain is another game.
“We have to think very much,” said 73-year-old Trapattoni, admitting that a major post mortem was needed after the first Irish loss in 15 outings.
Making an effort to strike an upbeat tone, he insisted the tournament was still open.
“We have another 90 minutes coming. We have to believe.
“Every game in this Euro could be a surprise.
“We have to believe this,” he said.
Irish fans’ expectations are high as the boys in green return to the stage for their first major Finals since the 2002 World Cup, having fallen controversially to France, helped by a Thierry Henry handball, in the playoffs for the 2010 edition.
Fittingly, it was via the playoffs that Ireland earned their berth at Euro 2012, as they beat minnows Estonia to reach their first European championship since 1988.
Trapattoni is appearing at his second Euro after guiding Italy to the 2004 edition, where they exited at the group stage despite not losing a match.
He insists his hunger for victory remains as strong as ever despite already accruing seven Serie A titles, the European Cup, a Cup Winners Cup and two UEFA Cups.
Having earned the affection of fans since taking the helm in 2008 – with some of his occasionally laboured English turns of phrases acquiring cult status such as ‘I am not Jesus Christ I cannot work miracles!’ – he has said he wants to repay the faith placed in him by the Irish people.
Euro 2012, hosted by Poland and Ukraine, marks what is likely to be the last major appearance for 36-year-old goalkeeper Shay Given and 31-year-old striker Robbie Keane, their talismanic captain, both of whom shone in the 2002 World Cup that made it to the round of 16 only to lose to Spain on penalties.
Keane was disconsolate over Sunday’s result.
“Two goals killed us.
“The one before half time and the one after that, that was the killer blow and it was always going to be uphill from there,” he said. — AFP
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