Published 27/05/2016 at 15:50 GMT | Updated 10/06/2016 at 17:03 GMT
Nobody connected with the Republic of Ireland wants a repeat of their Euro 2012 appearance, where the only bright spot was the memorable atmosphere created by their fans. They went home with no points, one goal scored and nine conceded that year – although their group did contain finalists Spain and Italy – and the campaign was written off as a failure.
The outlook feels a little brighter this time around; there will be no harder-working side than Martin O'Neill's during this tournament but they have a sprinkling of genuine quality too and certainly do not lack experience. Qualification for the last 16 will be difficult in a tight Group E but they have the capacity to pull off the one big result that could see them through.
Republic of Ireland's players celebrates scoring the last minute equalizer with his team-mates during the UEFA Euro 2016 Group D qualifying football match Germany vs Republic of Ireland in Gelsenkirchen, western Germany on October 14, 2014. The match ende
What is the best attacking balance? Wes Hoolahan is the man who can beat an opponent or pick passes through the eye of a needle, but he is 34 now and needs plenty of protection from a midfield that may have its work cut out in the other direction. He would not be suited to playing in a 4-4-2 but that would be an alternative for Ireland, perhaps with Daryl Murphy joining Shane Long up front and James McClean operating as an orthodox winger on the left. Ireland do, at least, have the option to change things around.
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Hard work and a solid base will be Ireland’s priority and a central midfield pair of James McCarthy and Glenn Whelan will cover huge amounts of ground to protect their defence. Shane Long is a whirlwind of energy up front and typifies the team’s approach, defending from the front and aiming to force the opposition into mistakes. Pace at centre-back is lacking and full-backs Seamus Coleman and, particularly, Robbie Brady are not the most defensively-minded – so Ireland must keep their discipline. Hoolahan is the only player to offer real variation with the ball and may be rotated depending on Ireland’s requirements.
THE MANAGER: MARTIN O'NEILL
O'Neill played for neighbours Northern Ireland during the 1970s and 1980s, winning 64 caps while starring for an all-conquering Nottingham Forest side. He embarked upon a successful managerial career and has been at the Republic's helm since 2013, ably assisted by the renowned former midfielder Roy Keane. Qualification for Euro 2016 counts as a feather in his cap with the resources available but O'Neill, who won three Scottish Premier League when in charge of Celtic and took them to the UEFA Cup final in 2002/03, is renowned for getting the best out of his players and could yet lead his team to bigger surprises.
TOP THREE PLAYERS
Shane Long: Indefatigable striker Long has sometimes blown hot and cold domestically but comes fresh from an impressive season with Southampton, who he helped qualify for the Europa League, and has gained a happy knack of scoring important goals for his country – none more so than the winner against Germany.
Seamus Coleman: Everton's season was nothing to write home about but Coleman remains an outstanding attacking right-back whose technique has few parallels in the Ireland squad, and he will contribute usefully to attacks with his bursts up the pitch. He did not make Giovanni Trapattoni's cut for Euro 2012, which now seems a regrettable decision.
Georgia's Guram Kashia (L) fights for the ball against Ireland's Seamus Coleman during their Euro 2016 Group D qualifying soccer match in Tbilisi September 7, 2014. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili
Image credit: Reuters
Jon Walters: Stoke City forward Walters only made his Ireland debut at the age of 27 but now, at 32, is a big presence for his country and combines a goalscoring instinct with some outstanding defensive work from his usual perch on the right flank. He is a hard-running, physical threat who suits the team perfectly.
SOCIAL MEDIA STAR
In character with the team’s unflashy nature Ireland are generally not tweetaholics, but goalkeeper Darren Randolph has provided some mildly interesting behind-the-scenes insights and action shots with Euro 2016 nearing.
JONATHAN WILSON’S KILLER KNOWLEDGE
The Robbie Keane question seems to have been answered and Ireland’s record goalscorer will start form the bench, but there are still questions about whether Hoolahan will play in a 4-2-3-1. Walters and Jeff Hendrick offer options wide, cutting in to make room for the overlap of the full-backs, Coleman and Brady.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
Perspiration and a little inspiration got Ireland through an arduous Group D campaign in third place before beating Bosnia-Herzegovina 3-1 on aggregate in the play-offs. A famous 1-0 win over Germany on the penultimate matchday, Long scoring a second-half decider, guaranteed them at least a knock-out tie and they would have finished second had they won in Poland a month later. In the event, Brady’s goal secured them a draw on a fog-bound night in Zenica and then a superb second-leg showing saw qualification confirmed through a Jon Walters brace. Nobody could say they did not deserve it.