Thursday 8 December 2016

Memories of Giants Stadium as we get Italy in tough Euro draw

Published 13/12/2015 | 02:30

TENSE MOMENT: Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill, assistant coach Roy Keane, FAI president John Delaney and his girlfriend Emma English watch the UEFA Euro 2016 Final Draw
TENSE MOMENT: Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill, assistant coach Roy Keane, FAI president John Delaney and his girlfriend Emma English watch the UEFA Euro 2016 Final Draw

It's not a group of death, but it's pretty damn close.

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Yes, we've beaten the Italians in a major championships before. Who can forget Ray Houghton's delicious long-range lob in the cauldron of Giants Stadium in New York?

But that was 21 years ago now.

And Toto Schillaci did for us on that balmy and unforgettable night in Rome in the summer of 1990.

"It couldn't be more difficult," admitted Ireland manager Martin O'Neill.

He added: "It's two Pot One teams, effectively - very difficult but we'll treat it accordingly. Belgium have world-ranked players and Italy are Italy but they are games to look forward to.

"I'll get my head around it as soon as possible. The fans' enthusiasm won't be diminished, in fact, it should be enhanced."

The manager is right but fans worried about the difficult draw should remember that as well as the two top teams from each group, four third-placed teams also go through. It means a win and a draw from the three games may be enough.

Our other Group E opponents, Belgium, managed by Marc Wilmots, were World Cup quarter finalists just last year and are currently Number 1 in the FIFA World rankings.

They boast Chelsea wizard Eden Hazard in attack and Vincent Kompany of Manchester City in defence.

Italy were runners-up in Euro 2012 and many believe the squad is better now as Marco Verratti and Matteo Darmian make their mark with the Azzurri.

And Sweden are not exactly a soft touch either, spearheaded by the mercurial Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

It is a stamina test for fans too, moving from Paris and travelling south west to Bordeaux and then to the far north of the country for the final game in Lille.

Security will be extremely tight, especially in Paris, for the opening game, so soon after the Isil terror attacks on the City of Light.

Martin O'Neill's men will open their campaign at Euro 2016 at the Stade de France against Sweden on Monday June 13. Kick-off is at 6pm (5pm Irish time).

Then we move south to the wine-producing region of Bordeaux. On June 18, we meet Belgium at Stade de Bordeaux, a 42,000-capacity stadium purpose-built for the tournament and featuring a 'floating' roof supported by 900 stanchions, located on the banks of the Garonne river.

Finally, the day after Midsummer on June 22, we play Italy in Lille. The stadium is located in the suburb of Villeneuve d'Ascq, 6km south-east of Lille city centre. The 50,000-seater stadium boasts a retractable roof and can be opened or closed in 30 minutes.

Northern Ireland will be only marginally happier with yesterday's draw. They are grouped with Germany, Ukraine and Poland and will fancy their chances at making it through to the second 'last 16' stage of the competition, perhaps as a best placed third team.

Manager Michael O'Neill said: "It's a tough draw. We didn't want the world champions but we'll take hope from the fact that the Republic beat them and we'll get good information about them and Poland as well.

The opening game in Nice will be very interesting and while we will be unlikely to win the group, we still have a chance."

Tickets for Euro 2016 go on sale tomorrow. Fans can apply for tickets until January 18.

In all, 820,000 tickets will be issued to fans from 24 nations taking part in the competition.

A variety of different ticket packages will be available, including single tickets, 'Follow My Team' tickets, premium hospitality tickets and accessibility tickets for wheelchair users. 'Follow My Team' tickets will give fans access to all of their team's group stage matches and will also accommodate them if their team advances into the latter stages of the quarter finals.

Fans who apply will not be guaranteed a ticket. Fans will be informed by the end of February whether or not they will be attending the Euro 2016 championships.

Matches will be played in 10 different stadiums. The first match and the final will be played in the 80,000-seater Stade de France. Most of the other stadiums hold between 33,000 and 67,000 fans.

Each stadium will host at least four matches, with the larger stadiums hosting the quarter and semi finals.

For the ordinary fan, tickets are reasonably competitive with the cheapest at €45 which will be available from the UEFA website.

Meanwhile Ireland are an Evens shot to emerge from their group after last night's draw says Paddy Power.

The bookie makes the Boys In Green 17/2 to win the group of death while it's 100/1 for them to send the country nuts by winning the whole bloody thing!

Sunday Independent

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