COLM O'REGAN: Qualifying for the Euros means something other than Ireland meeting bailout conditions

HERE it is. The Big One. Or, as the French say, Le Gros Wan. Ireland’s opening bow at the Euros. Our recent economic turnaround, as a country, can be traced to our progress at major footballing events.

Even though our 2012 trip to the European Championships ended in ignominy, it was still hugely important to get there. For the first time in a while, ‘qualifying for the Euros’ meant something other than meeting a bailout condition.

Our first opponents are the old enemy, Sweden. I say ‘old enemy’, but Swedish Vikings never actually invaded Ireland and this has been a sore point ever since. We feel slighted, as if we mustn’t have been worth their while pillaging. Say what you like about the Danes and the Norwaynes, but at least they made the effort to call.

The capital of Sweden is Stockholm, which translates roughly as “Make sure we’ve enough groceries”.

Our other opponents are Belgium and Italy. Belgium is a small country, just like Ireland, but that’s where the similarities end. Belgium is the country that contains Brussels, where all the regulations, and money for the roads, come from.

Italy is famous for having been beaten by us, once, at the World Cup. This is a victory that will live forever in our memories. Italians, funnily enough, don’t seem to make a big deal of it, as they have … um .. gone on to do other stuff since, like win the World Cup, whereas we have just done a lot of commemorating of anniversaries of our three wins.

At this stage, you may be getting involved in conversations in the office about the Championships. If you know nothing about football, I have, helpfully, provided a little pen picture of the different types of countries. This will make you sound like a football pundit and get you through that initial thirty seconds of desk-leaning talk.

The key thing for punditry is to sound authoritative. Sounding authoritative doesn’t mean knowing what you are talking about. It means that what you know is all that is necessary to know, at this stage. So, for example, a pundit will say something like “well, obviously we don’t know a lot about this team, Clive”, not because they haven’t bothered their barney to look them up, but because it’s not important right now.

The following teams can be described as plucky: Albania and Iceland. To be plucky, you have to be a small country and be kind of odd. Albania is quite mountainous and has an air of mystery. Iceland has volcanoes. Technically, Northern Ireland should be plucky, too, but they are a bit like us, so we would be lumped together in the valiant category, along with Wales. Valiant is the same as plucky, but a bit less scuttling.

The next group are the dark horses. The dark horse is the team that has come from nowhere to win. Theoretically, you can’t be a dark horse until you win. The very act of being named as a dark horse immediately lightens your horsiness, but this is ignored by pundits. In fact, some countries have been called ‘everyone’s dark horse’, which makes them the favourites. Dark horses include, Belgium, Croatia, and the Czech Republic.

A few nations will be there or thereabouts in the shake-up. These are traditionally strong countries, who will be, at the end of the day, there, at the end of the day. These include Germany, France, Italy, and Spain

Perennial underachievers are England, Portugal, and Russia. England, because of the tabloids, Portugal, because they never bring a striker, and Russia, because of a CIA and fascist-backed plot to humiliate the mother country. All the remaining countries will be strong technically and if the country is far enough east and south, you can add a ‘but with a suspect temperament ’, because of the heat out there, or their funny alphabet.

And we don’t know much about Hungary.

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