Sunday 4 December 2016

Nothing less than outright victory will be good enough for our Roy

Eamonn Sweeney

Published 05/06/2016 | 02:30

With the Germans in very patchy form since Brazil and Spain without anyone resembling an international class striker, it’s France's to lose. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
With the Germans in very patchy form since Brazil and Spain without anyone resembling an international class striker, it’s France's to lose. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

So who'll win it then? It's hard to look beyond France. The weak nature of recent hosts has tended to obscure the major advantage enjoyed by home nations if they've got a good team. And France do have a good team, they got to the quarter-finals of the World Cup and were just edged out 1-0 by the German side who eventually won it. With the Germans in very patchy form since Brazil and Spain without anyone resembling an international class striker, it's France's to lose.

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Who'll do better than you think?

Italy. It might not be a team to gladden the heart but Italy will have the best back four in the tournament and perhaps the canniest manager in Antonio Conte. They only have to be functional elsewhere to prove very dangerous opponents for anyone. As they showed four years ago, the Italians are a very good tournament team. They could meet the Germans in the quarters and turn them over again.

Who'll do worse?

The World Cup finals saw the heartening spectacle of the English football media, like some Tory MP resigning himself to the loss of the empire in the 1950s, accepting their new diminished state. Never again, we were told, would they lose the run of themselves. Yet here they are expecting great things because Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy, untried internationally, scored a lot of goals in a chronically weak Premier League. The draw is kind but a quarter-final exit against Portugal seems the best they can hope for.

How will we do?

Grand. Italy and Belgium look a league above us but we're capable of opening with a win over Sweden and three points could be enough to make the last 16. You'd have to consider that mission accomplished, though if Roy Keane was to be intellectually consistent he'd declare anything less than tournament victory to be a disgrace and anyone who welcomes a trophyless Irish team home to be the embodiment of pathetic national mediocrity.

Dark horses?

So many people have described Belgium as a dark horse that the animal has turned a distinctly pale colour. A real dark horse is someone who nobody has really considered, like perhaps Switzerland who were excellent in the World Cup two years ago and should handle the runners-up in Group C to make it to the last eight.

Any big shocks?

We'll beat Sweden and I can see Wales beating the dependably flakey Russians on June 27 in Toulouse. But if you want a real flyer how about Northern Ireland to upset Poland in Nice this day week? The North proved very adept at grinding out results against opposition of Poland's standard in their group, while the Poles didn't look to be the greatest of travellers in ours. Robert Lewandowski is a big problem of course, but Michael O'Neill's men have a serious chance here.

Are you sure about all these?

No, but it's the best I can do.

Sunday Independent

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