Thursday 8 December 2016

Tournament hero Ray Houghton on Euro 2016 draw: 'It's not all doom and gloom'

Published 12/12/2015 | 18:58

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill, centre right, with fellow Group E managers, from left, Antonio Conte, Italy, Erik Hamren, Sweden, and Marc Wilmots, Belgium, after the UEFA EURO Final Tournament Draw. Le Palais des Congrès de Paris, Paris, France. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill, centre right, with fellow Group E managers, from left, Antonio Conte, Italy, Erik Hamren, Sweden, and Marc Wilmots, Belgium, after the UEFA EURO Final Tournament Draw. Le Palais des Congrès de Paris, Paris, France. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Former Ireland international Ray Houghton believes Ireland's encounter with Sweden at the Stade de France on June 13 is a must-win if we are to advance from Group E of Euro 2016.

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Martin O'Neill's Republic of Ireland side were drawn in Group E, which looks to be the toughest in terms of the path to the knock-out rounds, with Belgium, who are currently top of the FIFA world rankings, Sweden and Italy.

Ireland begin their campaign in the French capital against the Swedes and have only beaten the Scandinavians twice in 10 meetings but Houghton believes that statistic must change.

"We have to win the first game against Sweden, on the flipside of that is Belgium play Italy in their first game," Houghton said on Newstalk.

"They have got to go head-to-head and we'll see how that pans out. If one of them lose, it puts them under pressure.

"It's not all doom and gloom.

"When you look at the big nations we've got, you think 'Wow!', you look at what Belgium are starting to do, you look at what Italy have achieved, we know what Sweden are like but there are a lot of tough groups. A and F look the ones to be in.

"Ours and Northern Ireland's stand out as really tough groups to try and get out of."

The Republic of Ireland face a daunting task but former defender Mark Lawrenson believes it could suit them.

"We are better as underdogs, as soon as they are favourites we collapse. We could be underdogs in all three games," he told the BBC.

"The great thing is we have no star players. Probably it's the least talented squad who have ever qualified so that speaks volumes for the manager and Roy Keane and the coaching staff. Because they have no stars they are very difficult to beat. They will have a real go. The last time in the Euros we bombed but I don't see that happening this time.

"It's a long way off until we play, players will get injured and have loss of form. You never know."

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