Turning Euro dreams into Euro reality

No-one should be holding their breath in anticipation of European Championship finals games being played in Ireland in eight years’ time, despite confirmation the FAI joined its counterparts in Scotland and Wales in expressing an interest in co-hosting the tournament in 2020.

Sports politics seem to be at play in the move which, it’s understood, was encouraged by UEFA in response to concerns the only other expression of interest on the table, ahead of last night’s deadline, was a Turkish bid which has long been embroiled in controversy. Georgia also belatedly entered the fray yesterday with a solo run, after a plan to co-host with Azerbaijan collapsed.

Although reportedly backed by UEFA President Michel Platini, Turkey’s interest in hosting the competition has been overshadowed by domestic match-fixing and corruption allegations. And, of even greater concern in Istanbul is that Euro 2020 would also clash with the country’s desire to host the Olympics in the same year, effectively ensuring one or other bid fails.

UEFA gave national associations until May 15 to declare interest in hosting the tournament.

UEFA will now embark on an 18-month process allowing for candidates to elaborate on their bid dossiers before a final decision on the host nation or nations is made in late 2013/early 2014. Significantly, it’s believed that the extended time period could also allow for UEFA to reopen the bidding process if they see fit.

Yesterday, the FAI stressed their involvement at this stage was of a very tentative nature, saying: “The expression of interest is preliminary after the principal was discussed and is being put forward by the three associations so that the opportunity can be explored in more detail. At this stage no bids would be expected or required by UEFA for at least 18 months.”

A ‘Celtic’ bid for Euro 2020 would pose significant challenges, not least to provide sufficient stadia to accommodate a tournament which, from 2016 on, will expand from 16 to 24 teams. Logically, Aviva Stadium and Croke Park would have to come into play but there have not even been informal discussions between the FAI and GAA, though it’s understood FAI chief executive John Delaney did notify GAA Director General Paraic Duffy in advance of yesterday’s expression of interest.

Of much more immediate concern for Irish football is Euro 2012, and Giovanni Trapattoni has been telling the Gazzetta dello Sport that Ireland can spring a surprise in Poland next month — despite ending up in what he called “probably the worst group we could get”.

He repeated his belief qualification could come down to Ireland’s game against his native country and said: “If Italy were to be knocked out, there’d be a crisis.”

Describing his own team, the manager went on: “[We are] a mix of pride, conviction and standard technique. They know that they can’t keep possession like Italy did in the friendly in Belgium last year — but we won. They don’t have a Ronaldo who invents goals, nor a Balotelli, Cassano nor poor Giuseppe Rossi. But they can count on immense pride. And that’s a little Italian.”

Commenting on the excitement generated by James McClean, he said: “In not having an abundance [of talent] every small flower can seem like a beautiful daisy. But the boy’s a good player. And Robbie Keane, yes, he is [like a Totti figure]. He doesn’t have the power of the 20-year-olds but he has more wisdom. He has class, scores great goals and sacrifices himself in both phases of play. We can’t do without him.”


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