Next week Ireland kick off their European campaign against Croatia. Things are starting to get serious now. The Irish team left their base in Montecatini on Sunday and travelled to Budapest for their friendly against Hungary on Monday. The team who play on Monday night should be the team that starts against Croatia next Sunday, barring injuries of course. Below I have included some of the things we can expect for the tournament.
Star of tournament: Joe Lapira. Irish-American one-cap wonder Lapira is reportedly on Trapattoni's standby list waiting for a phone call. Rumours that Terry Dixon might get a call-up are unfounded.
Bet of tournament: England to make the final. No seriously. No expectation, no Rooney for their two most difficult group games, a raft of injuries, and Stewart Downing as the secret weapon. And with Time Magazine Man of the Year John Terry as the defensive cock rock upon which the team is built upon, opposition strikers won't get a sniff chance against him. How can they fail to do well.
Match of the Tournament: Germany v Holland. To be fair, this one could go either way. It will either be a classic or entirely forgettable. However, there is a long and unfriendly rivalry between these two, which always spices things up, and I think this has all the potential to live up to it's billing. Both teams cruised through qualification and appear to be in great form. With the likes of Robben, Van Persie, Huntellaar, Gomez, Ozil, Podolski all featuring it promises to be a thriller. Prediction: 0-0.
Role model of the tournament: Mario Balotelli. Always a class act.
The 'No Pressure, but...' Award: Russia. Should Russia finish second in their group and Germany win theirs then they will meet each other in the quarter finals on the 22nd June. On the 22nd June 1941, the Second World War started for the Soviet Union as Germany launched Operation Barborossa. 3.9 million German troops marched into the Soviet Union, the largest invasion in the history of warfare (thanks Wikipedia). The eyes of a nation and, more importantly, Vladimir Putin will be expecting victory. Prediction: Russia 0 - 2 Germany.
Winners: Polish bar owners. With large numbers of Irish fans expected to travel to Poland, reports vary between 10,000 and 20,000, you can be sure that the bars in Poznan and Gdansk will be drunk dry. Friends who have recently been to Poland say that the local brew costs between €1.50 - €2.00 in local currency. Fans should not expect those prices this summer.
Biggest disappointment: Polish bar owners. If Ireland somehow make it out of the group and continue the party in the Ukraine then all the Polish bar owners will have to remember the Irish by will be the Tyskie fuelled vomit-stained bar stools, green plastic hammers, and all the sweet sweet zloty they are missing out on.
In the first of a series of memorable Irish football songs we look no further than this Euro 2012 attempt. It features Damien Dempsey, Danny O'Reilly (?), The Dubliners and somebody who calls himself 'Bressie' (no, me neither). Click here to enjoy.