In what might be accounted the first major surprise of Euro 2012, Liam Brady has predicted an unlikely winner for the tournament – Ireland’s Group C opponents Croatia.
The former international and ex-member of Giovanni Trapattoni’s management team reckons that, like Ireland, Croatia have done well to qualify for the finals and, free of any massive expectations, have the right combination of team spirit and individual quality to go all the way.
The implication of Brady’s prediction, of course, is that for Ireland to join Croatia in qualifying for the quarter-finals, it would mean both of Group C’s big guns, Spain and Italy, sensationally missing out.
“Well, you know, anybody can win, can’t they?” said Brady. “It’s thrown up winners in the past that nobody has expected. There’s all sorts of factors involved, including tiredness and ambition. With Spain, I just get the feeling that they’ve been there and done it once too often. Will they have the passion to go again? I have a feeling they won’t.
“And I don’t fancy the Italians at all. I think their team is in the formative stages and I think it will be difficult for them. I always like to go for someone who has a really good chance as an outsider. A bit like Holland in the last World Cup, they were well outside anyone’s fancy.”
Just for the record, however, Brady was forced to concede he hadn’t backed previous dark horse winners Denmark and Greece to prevail in Euros ’92 and ’04 respectively. “No,” he laughed, “I lost a lot of money in those two competitions.’’
At one point during yesterday’s press conference Brady actually said he didn’t believe Ireland would get out of their group.
But later, talking to football journalists, he plotted a course by which they might, arguing a draw would be a very positive result for Ireland in their opening game against the Croats. While many have dubbed the match a must-win for both sides, Brady reckons that for Ireland to have any realistic hope of progressing the main priority will be not to lose it.
“Look, I’ve been involved in tournaments with kids and things like that and even at U12 and U13 level the important thing is to get something on the board in the first game,” he said.
“And I think if we can get something from the first match, we could beat the Italians. Yeah, absolutely, get a point out of it and we’re in it right until the end. Let them slit one another’s throats in the second game and we’ve got one to come.”
The man who heads up Arsenal’s youth academy admitted to missing his involvement in the Irish set-up “a little bit”.
“I was really disappointed in Paris because I thought we were going to go to the World Cup, so that was a big blow. I’m a little bit envious of them going out now and being at the sharp end but, look, I made my decision [to leave]. It was a decision I made because of my job at Arsenal and not because I didn’t enjoy my time with the Ireland team.”
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