Armenia V Ireland
It’s been a while since Ireland have gone into a qualifying campaign full of hope and with a genuine belief that they can progress to the big stage and thus end their ten-year wait.
While the 2002 tournament ended in a penalty shootout defeat to Spain, Ireland players and fans recognised that they had blown a golden chance to go further than their current quarter-final record in 1990. Thierry Henry’s infamous handball put paid to the chance to compete at this year’s World Cup where, again, the standard was unusually low and the boys in green would at least have played with the passion that deserted the bigger nations like England, France and Italy.
European Championships have been few and far between for Ireland, but this year there is genuine optimism that they can progress. A draw alongside Armenia, Andorra, Macedonia, Slovakia and Russia is not the most daunting for a team that has played together for many qualifying campaigns at this stage.
Not only that, but a good start is always welcome and the draw has been reasonably kind in that respect with Armenia and Andorra first up for Trapatoni’s men. Armenia should be overlooked as weak opposition today, but to do so would be an injustice as they have recorded victories over the likes of Belgium and Poland in recent years and are a decent team at home, although they finished bottom of their World Cup qualifying group.
Still, with the likes of Given in goal, Dunne in defence, McGeady, Doyle and Keane in attack, Ireland will hope to pick up where they left off with a minimum of three points and a few goals would come in hand too…