Sunday 4 December 2016

The A-Z of surviving the Euros

You don't know what a false nine is, can't find Albania on a map and think Ibrahimovic is a Serbian popstar. Fret not - our man has a comprehensive guide for the fairweather fan

Published 10/06/2016 | 02:30

Ray Houghton is hailed a national hero after scoring against England in the European Championships 1988
Ray Houghton is hailed a national hero after scoring against England in the European Championships 1988
Jacqui Hurley, Eamon Dunphy, Darragh Maloney and John Giles are among those providing Euro 2016 coverage on RTE this year Photo: INPHO/Cathal Noonan.
Unpredictable: Roy Keane
Striker: Former postman Conor Washington will step out for Northern Ireland.

The final countdown to the 2016 European Championships is underway, with the tournament kicking off tonight with France v Romania and Ireland stepping into the cauldron against Sweden on Monday. But what if you can't tell the difference between a false nine and a fat centre forward? Do you assume Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a Serbian pop star? Are you wondering if this has anything to do with Connacht winning at the rugby? For the benefits of the slightly confused, here is our ultimate Euro 2016 A-Z.

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A is for Albania

Euro 2016 is a bit like the Eurovision Song Contest, with slightly less sweating and grunting. There are more teams than ever (a record 24 qualifiers), which means endless plucky upstarts to cheer for. Among those making their debut are Albania, very much in the Ireland mould with a game plan emphasising honest toil over skill and flair.

B is for Bordeaux

City of wine, culture, medieval architecture… and for a few hours on June 18, sunburnt hordes in green wigs. It is here the 'Olé, Olé' masses will descend for Ireland's crunch tie with Belgium.

C is for Caution

Defeat in your first game is a sure-fire way to crash and burn at a soccer tournament. Not that Ireland received the memo at Euro 2012, as the team kicked off with a 3-1 spanking at the hands of Croatia. Whatever else happens against Sweden on Monday, a similar collapse is unlikely.

D is for Disappointment

We hate to be the ones to break it to you, but Ireland probably won't win Euro 2016.

E is for England

Long ago, Ireland teetered under an enormous chip on our collective shoulder and willing England to lose was a national pastime. Nowadays, it seems more of a Scotland specialty. Moreover, England stand a decent chance of doing well at the Euros, being the only team to have won all their games in qualifying.

F is for False Nine

Those who watch a lot of Continental soccer and believe themselves superior to the average Irish "fan", tend to bang on about tactics and formations. Be warned: they may start speechifying about "inverted wingbacks" and "false nines" (a centre-forward who slots into a midfield role).

G is for Goalless Draw

Ireland have a knack for grinding out nil-all moral victories at tournaments. We drew our way to glory at Italia '90 and snatched a glorious 0-0 against Norway at USA 94.

H is for Soccer Hipster

Of all places, this phenomenon originated in the US, where soccer appeals to trendy liberal types on account of being a) European b) relatively obscure and c) philosophically at odds with meathead national pastimes such as American football. The soccer hipster has since spread back across the Atlantic, which is why you occasionally stumble upon a bearded, craft-beer chugging type banging on about Hamburg FC's St Pauli.

I is for Iceland

Occupying our traditional role of beloved underdogs this year is Iceland. And it's true - they are even punier than Ireland, with a population of some 350,000.

J is for Joxer

The build-up to Euro 2016 has seen an outpouring of nostalgia for the 1988 Championships, the first tournament for which Ireland qualified. The reminiscing has coalesced around the Christy Moore dirge 'Joxer Goes to Stuttgart' - a song that assails the eardrums but, nonetheless evokes a footloose and charmingly feckless Ireland never to return.

K is for Roy Keane

A temper with a person attached, Ireland's assistant manager is liable to go off on one at any moment - as he did following Ireland's defeat to Belarus in Cork recently.

L is for Lille

In France's far north, the old industrial town will host Ireland's final group game, against Italy, on June 22.

M is for Manners

Paris is famously not a city for the thin of skin. However, with the tourism industry already reeling from terrorism, there are worries that locals' notorious snootiness could be off-putting to visitors in for the Euros. To that end, there has been a campaign to educate service industry staff in the finer points of good manners.

N is for Nostalgia

We're up to our necks in Euro '88 reminiscing. One possible reason is that, 28 years on, late 80s Ireland truly is a foreign country. Nobody would want to go back to those days but perhaps the nostalgia speaks to a vague feeling that something was lost on the way to Ireland becoming a normal first world nation.

O is for 'Olé, Olé, Olé'

Across the world, wherever the Irish gather in numbers, a chorus of 'Olé, Olé, Olé' is inevitable. We leave it to you to judge whether that is something to be proud of.

P is for Pub

Where Irish people prefer to watch soccer. Sure, you could risk going to an actual match. But what if it rains?

Q is for Quelle Surprise

Shocks are what make soccer tournaments worth tuning into. We've supplied a few of our own down the decades, such as that famous 1988 defeat of England and victory over Italy at USA 1994.

R is for the RTE Panel

With the iconic Bill O'Herlihy no longer with us, the RTE studio panel is much diminished. Still, with the holy trinity of post-match grumpiness that is Liam Brady, John Giles and Eamon Dunphy lined up, sparks are always a possibility.

S is for Spain

Defending champions but, more importantly, custodians of the most derided team strip of the tournament. Spain's orange-ripple away shirt is a thing of wonder - simultaneously ugly and mesmerising.

T is for Team Song

Ireland's official anthem, the 'Irish Roar', is of course toe-curling. Why even have an official anthem? England have spared their fans the pleasure - and it isn't as if their performance on the field will be compromised as a result.

U is for Underdogs

Usually our assigned role. But we're up against it at Euro 2016, as an expanded tournament means room for such plucky hopefuls as Slovakia, Iceland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

V is for Victory

Though Ireland's record at major tournaments is unambiguously in the "not too shabby" column, straight-up wins are rare. We've defeated England, Italy, Romania and Saudi Arabia. Can the side add to this modest tally in France?

W is for for Conor Washington

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The Northern Ireland striker (pictured) is quite the late-bloomer - when the last Euros were held in 2012, he was gainfully employed as a postman, playing at weekends.

X is for Xherdan Shaqiri

The Swiss playmaker has been fondly dubbed 'Magic Dwarf' by fans - the best nickname of any player at Euro 2016.

Y is for Years

What Ireland lack in technical ability and top-rank players, we more than make up for in seniority, with an average age of 29 making ours the oldest squad at the tournament.

Z is for Zlatan Ibrahimovic

The Swedish talisman belongs to that elite club of "footballer-philosophers" - see also Eric Cantona, Andrea Pirlo and Cork City's Patsy Freyne - whose style of play communicates a deeper world view. He's also a quote machine - "I can't help but laugh at how perfect I am" and, asked what he would buy his long-term partner for her birthday, "Nothing. She already has Zlatan".

Irish Independent

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