Ireland Euro 2016 hopes starting to fade

When UEFA decided to expand the amount of teams who take part in the Euro 2016 tournament from 16 to 24, it gave Ireland a massive opportunity to qualify for their third European competition.

A total of 53 teams form UEFA, so a quick bit of Maths will tell you that just under half of these will be gracing the various stadiums across France next June and July.

Finish in the top two places, you qualify automatically. The best placed team finishing third also goes through with the remaining eight teams battling it out in the play-offs for the four spots remaining along with hosts France.

So when you read it like that and balancing up all the permutations that come along with it, you have to think to yourself that Ireland really do have a good chance of getting through.

What’s frustrating to see is that it would now take a considerable upturn of fortunes for Ireland to now make the tournament after a disappointing draw against Scotland in their qualifying game in Dublin last month.

Despite taking the lead through Jonathan Walters turning in a corner kick, an own goal by John O’Shea who deflected in a Shaun Maloney shot meant that the honours finished even, leaving Ireland in fourth place in the group, two points behind Scotland in third and four points behind Germany who occupy the second automatic qualifying place.

Although Ireland claiming a sensational last-gasp draw against World Champions Germany in October, the double-header against Scotland has only garnered a single point for Martin O’Neill’s men, when a return of four points wouldn’t have been too unrealistic.

The statistic which still comes back to haunt Ireland is that they’ve not defeated a team ranked in the top 30 in the world in a competitive game since 2002 and it’s a sad state of affairs that although Ireland fans feel they should beat teams like Scotland, the reality is, Ireland are a team lacking players of any real quality to do so.

Following an entertaining and committed performance in the first half, bolstered by the combative nature of Jon Walters and the attacking intent of Ipswich Town’s Darryl Murphy, in the second half, Ireland ran out of ideas and resorted to delivering long balls into the Scotland box.

Record goal scorer Robbie Keane started the game on the bench, which was a brave move for him after the tragic death of two of his cousins in an industrial accident in Dublin the week before. Also on the bench was Shane Long, which was unfortunate for the Southampton man to miss out on a starting spot after a strong season for the Saints, helping them claim a place in next season’s Europa League.

With the likes of Keane and Long on the bench, the lack of real firepower up front, combined with any quality from the Irish midfield, meant the boys in green huffed and puffed to a disappointing draw and with that, pushing their chances to qualify for Euro 2016 further out to sea.

After the game, Ireland Manager Martin O’Neill was disappointed in the result, but insisted that his charges could still qualify for the tournament.

He said: “We’re still in it. We’re still in the competition. I know that Scotland have some difficult games coming up. We have to try and make use of our matches in September. [The result] keeps the status quo with Scotland. I think you would have expected Poland to win today anyway but we’re still in contention.

“I think the goal we conceded was a desperately poor goal. It’s going miles wide, it’s come of John O’Shea’s shoulder and gone into the net.

“Half-time took a little steam out of us but even still we should defend that better than we do. They had three or four passes and we dropped onto the back foot and even though Maloney’s shot was going wide we should have closed it down.

“We lost a bit of composure then for about ten minutes in the game and Scotland came into it. I think we were obviously sat back immediately after half-time. We finished pretty strongly considering we were quite tired before the end.

“For the last 15 minutes of the game they were taking a lot of time over things and I wasn’t completely sure that the referee was helpful in that aspect but overall let’s forget about blaming anyone. We had a chance there and we spurned the chance eventually because we couldn’t get enough goals but we’re still in the competition.”

Unsurprisingly, Ireland defender, Seamus Coleman wasn’t fully sharing the positivity of his Manager, saying that the team need to learn from their mistakes if they’re to have any chance of progressing out of the group.

The Everton full-back said: “We were going to keep it tight and then we concede 45 seconds in, so we got a bit of a slap on the wrist for that, and rightly so.

“As professional players, that shouldn’t be happening 45 seconds into the second half. We have to take that on the chin. You can do all the stuff on the training ground you want, but you can’t really let that happen so early in the second half.

“To have all your hard work in the first half undone very, very early in the second half is massively disappointing, and it’s hard to take. It feels like a defeat, to be honest. Obviously it’s not a good start, conceding so early in the half – that was poor from our point of view – and then the normal reaction after conceding so early is that they are going to be on top for a little bit.

“But we did ride it out a little bit and Murph (Darryl Murphy) had a great chance, and it would have been great to make it 2-1. Robbie [Brady] played some great balls into the box a few times and we peppered their goal, and they just got that little bit of luck that we didn’t.

“The amount of balls we put into the box, a little deflection would have suited us, but unfortunately they got it.

“We’re still two points behind Scotland, but we were very disappointed in there. But Scotland have a couple of tough games coming up, we have tough games coming up – we have just got to look at the next game.

“We’ll look forward to September and try to win them. I know they are cliched answers you are getting from me, but we can’t give up on this group and I think we are still in it.

Obviously three points would have been a lot better than one. A lot of people said it was must-win, but we won’t give up hope just yet.”

International Football for Ireland now takes a break for a few months, giving the team side to re-stock ahead of September’s double-header against Gibraltar and Georgia knowing their qualification hopes have been dealt a significant blow.

It’s not yet a fatal one, but Ireland are now going to have to rely on results to go their way next month in order to keep their hopes of qualification live going into the final set of fixtures in October.