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Stephen Ward: 'We are happy as underdogs'

THE draw is only a few hours old and already the Republic of Ireland are the underdogs in Group C for Euro 2012.

But for Wolves defender Stephen Ward, that underdogs tag suits him and his team-mates down to the ground.

Ireland have waited a long, long time to experience a day like yesterday, when the nation switched off from normal duties like work, homework or housework to watch the draw unfold in far-off Kiev, and despite being drawn against the best nation in football now, Spain, Ward says that the Irish team can't wait to pit their wits against the Spanish, Italians and Croatians in Poland next June.

"We have every chance in this group," defender Ward told the Herald,.

"I just watched the draw at home but all the lads were texting each other, the banter was flying around.

"When Spain came out with us, I thought 'that had to happen, we always get the tough one'.

"If we had been in Group A, which on paper is not the strongest of groups, people may have expected us to qualify quite easily.

"We're the underdogs in this group now but the underdogs tag suits us and can work to our advantage. The other teams are favourites to get through so hopefully we can use that against them and to our advantage.


"Most people will expect Spain to qualify easily and we have to make work hard to make sure that's not the case. If you look at when they won the World Cup they didn't stroll through their group as easily as people expected, so if you can catch them on an off-day you never know what will happen," he added.

"It could be a fight between ourselves, Italy and Croatia for second place. I heard the Croatia manager on TV saying that any one of the three could go through with Spain.

"Spain are favourites to win the group but if we perform like we can, do what we have done over the last few months, we have a great chance.

"It's a great thing to be involved in. You still have to pinch yourself about it all, and I try not to get carried away, there is a lot of club football to be played between now and June and you can't take your place in the squad for granted. Hopefully I can stay fit, stay in the team at my club and play well and be in good shape when the finals come around."

Like most of the current Irish squad, Ward was far off from the senior international scene when Ireland last entered the draw for a major final, in 2002.

"It was a strange day for me yesterday. I felt like a kid watching the draw, I was just so excited, it's so long since Ireland were in the draw for a finals that a lot of people don't remember it and there we were, in with all the big nations," Ward admitted.

"Down the years I have always watched the draws for the major tournament, hoping that one day I could be part of that so it was an unbelievable feeling to be part of it.


"I was nervous before the draw, wondering who we'd get, would we get England? Now it's finally sunk in that we are at this tournament and that we are part of it all.

"The draw is brilliant for the fans. A lot of my mates have booked to go already. Some of them had booked their flights to Poland at half time in the first leg against Estonia and hoped that we'd end up there, they took a risk but it worked as we're in Poland so we will have great support there. It's a lot better for the fans and we know they'll travel in massive numbers.

"It makes a difference to the players, knowing that playing in Poland makes life a bit easier for our families and friends who will make the trip over," added the Wolves man.

"Spain are the one team that everyone in football wants to avoid, they are world and European champions now. They're odds-on favourites not just to come out of the group but to win the tournament and we have to deal with that.

"But the way the fixtures have worked out it's best for us to be playing them in the middle and hopefully if we can get a win in the first game we'll still be in contention for the last match. We won't be depending on getting a result against the Spanish.

"There are shocks all over the world in football and we'll be excited to be playing the Spanish.

"Our manager will no doubt come up with some sort of game plan to stop them. They are a fantastic side but it's a good thing that we are playing them.

"Italy will be a great game for us. We have a real hold over them now with the last three results against Italy, and our manager has so much respect over there they will not want to play us at all.

"I think they will hate the idea of playing us in the last game, if it comes down to a make-or-break situation in the last match between us and Italy I would fancy us."