'We can get to the quarter-finals'- Eamon Dunphy sets the bar high for Ireland
Eamon Dunphy believes that Ireland are more than capable of holding their own against any side at the upcoming European Championships and, as such, a place in the quarter finals is an appropriate benchmark to set.
Despite the atrocious manner in which the Euros in Poland and Ukraine unfolded for Ireland four years ago, there is a palpable sense of optimism in the air with their opening game against Sweden just 12 days away.
In 2012, Ireland were grouped with Spain and Italy -the eventual finalists - and a criminally underrated Croatian outfit, and were soundly beaten by all of them. Consequently, Irish soccer has rarely been at a lower ebb.
Of course, the situation was compounded by an abject World Cup qualifying bid, which culminated in Giovanni Trapattoni’s departure.
After a plodding start to Martin O’Neill’s tenure, Ireland came alive late last summer and staged a belated push for qualification that included a victory over Germany at Aviva Stadium and an intoxicating evening in the same venue last November, when defeating Bosnia and Herzegovina in the second leg of the playoffs to seal a spot at the fast approaching festivities in France.
However, the football gods were far from kind to Ireland for the second time in four years. Being matched with Belgium, the number one side in the world, Italy and the Zlatan Ibrahimović-inspired Sweden, it felt like a horrifying case of déjà vu.
Yet the green army are travelling to France en masse and expectations remain strangely high.
Eamon Dunphy has surveyed Ireland’s forthcoming opponents and doesn’t recognise anything to be overly worried about.
“Sweden are a pretty ordinary side," he said at the launch of RTÉ's Euro 2016 coverage.
"I saw them last weekend and against Denmark in the qualifiers and they’re not very good. They are a one man team, but he is a hell of a man (Ibrahimović). If we produce a good team performance, we’ll beat Sweden.
“I think we should progress from the group because I think Sweden is an opportunity to win and Italy are an opportunity to win or draw. They’re two men down with Marco Verratti and Claudio Marchisio.
“They’re also a shadow of the side of four years ago; Pirlo is gone and the Juventus guys at the back are four years older.
“I think we have every chance of getting to the second phase and, depending on who we meet and how we are with injuries, I think we have a chance of getting to the quarter finals.”
Dunphy has little issue with the 23-man panel Martin O’Neill has selected, though admitted his disappointment at Harry Arter’s injury enforced omission.
However, and not for the first time, he said that selecting James McCarthy and Glenn Whelan in the same midfield would be a serious mistake.
“Arter was outstanding against Holland last week and I think that he is a player that should have been in the starting 11. We need his type of dynamism in midfield so he’s a big loss in my opinion.
“Now Martin O’Neill has a choice to make. If he plays with McCarthy and Whelan it will be an error because they duplicate each other, and they haven’t delivered during qualifying so maybe Stephen Quinn will come in there. But we need something more in midfield than we’ve had.”
While Dunphy has never hesitated to criticise the individuals in the Irish group, players or management, he is certain that they possesses more than enough quality to make an indelible mark on the tournament.
“We shouldn’t limit our ambitions because we have a good team with lots of good players. Robbie Brady, Wes Hoolahan, Shane Long, Seamus Coleman and Jon Walters, these are all top Premier League players.
“So I would expect us to be competitive against whoever we meet. We should go deep into the tournament, and that should be our expectation.”