Shane Long, John Walters, Seamus Coleman and Wes Hoolahan.
Potential weak links
John O’Shea (experienced veteran, but is very slow and could be torn to shreds by the likes of Graziano Pelle, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku.
The goalkeeper crisis for Ireland is open for all to see. Despite Darren Randolph mustering some brilliant performances in the last year for Ireland, it is worth mentioning that he hasn’t been playing much at all for West Ham this season. And now with Rob Elliot being sidelined, as well as being the only regular Premier League keeper in the side, Martin O’Neill may have to take a chance on Shay Given.
What could help them get through the group?
For Ireland to progress in this kind of group, their best strategy may be to soak up the pressure and burst with counter-attacks. The side now possess some pretty quick players – Long, Coleman and Hoolahan to name a few – all of whom could be deadly on the counter. Sweden will be the best chance to play football, and if Ireland can ruin Ibrahimovic’s day then the match could be theirs for the taking.
Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland side head into to this summer’s Euro 2016 tournament after courageously beating Bosnia and Herzegovina 3-1 on aggregate back in November.
Robbie Brady’s away goal (which was almost impossible to see due to heavy fog) and Johnny Walters’ heroics in the second leg 2-0 victory sees Martin’s side head into the summer brimming with confidence.
Furthermore, after coming off the back of an impressive 1-0 friendly win against Switzerland last Friday and a hard fought 2-2 draw against Slovakia on Tuesday, expectations will be high for the Boys in Green.
The Republic of Ireland has been drawn in Group E against Sweden (June 13), Belgium (June 18) and 2012 runners-up Italy (June 22). Yet again, the Republic are going to be facing a mountainous challenge. But let’s not let the pessimism creep in, because just like Northern Ireland, England and Wales, the Republic have earned their right to be in France this summer.
One of the main concerns for Martin O’Neill at the moment will be the amount of injuries his squad has gained. After the latest friendlies, O’Neill was left hampered with the loss of Elliot, Walters, Kevin Doyle, Robbie Keane, Daryl Murphy, Jeff Hendrick and Harry Arter.
Thankfully, not all of those injuries are serious. One of the big worries from that group was Walters. It was reported that his cartilage problem was supposedly going to see him miss the Euros, but after having an operation on Tuesday he’s since claimed he’ll be “grand”.
Harry Arter of Bournemouth has been blighted with injuries all season, but is now back on track and is hopeful of playing every game up until the end of the season. As mentioned above, Elliot will sadly be missing out, but Keane is on the mend and will hopefully get some games in for LA Galaxy before the squads are announced.
Looking at the opponents in depth for Euro 2016, Sweden had to face Denmark in a play-off, which they won after Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored two superb goals in the second leg in Denmark, as Sweden ran through 4-3 winners on aggregate.
Ireland will have to find ways to outsmart Zlatan this summer, and going by the PSG form book, that is going to prove to be some task. After his recent goal against Chelsea in the last 16 of UEFA Champions League (which dumped them out the competition), Ibrahimovic, at the age of 34, has already bagged an impressive 35 goals in all competitions this season.
In addition to Ibrahimovic’s genius, Ireland will also have to face the long list of heavyweights in the Belgium squad. Vincent Kompany, Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois… the list just goes on.
Belgium are currently the highest ranked side in the world, so Ireland may be on defensive duties all game. A draw may be the best possible result, but knowing that they’ve already beaten Germany on their way to Euro 2016 and also that Wales managed to beat Belgium in qualifying, will hopefully give Ireland the fearless attitude that has stood them in good stead so far.
And ending off the group will be a match against Italy. It unknown what squad Italy will have available for the tournament, especially as Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi, Claudio Marchisio and Giorgio Chiellini are all trying to recover from injuries.
One thing is for sure though; Gianluigi Buffon will be between the sticks for Italy and has for decades proved to be one of the best goalkeepers in the world. With Italy always being a nation of high hopes for the major tournaments, it could be over expectation that sees them crumble.
Having said that, they are beautifully unpredictable. At the last European Championships in 2012, not many critics had expected Italy to go far, but they defied the odds and made it all the way to the final, where they would ultimately lose to Spain 4-0.