Republic of Ireland
How did they make the play-offs?
Republic of Ireland started their qualifying campaign in good form, seeing off Georgia away from home in their first game, 2-1. This result was followed up by a seven-goal haul over part-timers Gibraltar. However, Ireland’s form in the group then dropped, as they only managed to pick up three points from their next four games, including draws against Germany and Poland. Sitting in fourth place, Ireland then went on to record three successive victories, the highlight being a 1-0 win over world champions Germany in Dublin. They were in touching distance of qualifying automatically, but a Robert Lewandowski winner saw Poland come out 2-1 winners in the deciding game, leaving them having to settle for third.
Have they ever qualified for the Euros?
Ireland have qualified for the Euros twice before, in 1988 and 2012. In 1988, they finished top of their qualifying group and went in to the tournament facing fellow home nation England, as well as the Soviet Union and the Netherlands. Ireland won their first game, beating England 1-0 with an early goal from Ray Houghton. But their tournament ended at the group stage after they drew with Soviet Union, and then fell to defeat against the Netherlands. The Green Army finished third in the group, above England, who suffered a disappointing campaign.
In 2012, Ireland were put in the toughest group of the tournament, facing up against Spain, Croatia and Italy. They weren’t expected to progress, and they failed to record any points as they were beaten comfortably by all three.
Who’s the man in charge?
Martin O’Neill is the man entrusted to secure Ireland a place at Euro 2016. The former Nottingham Forest player has been a success in both the English and Scottish Premier Leagues, but Ireland is his first international job. He took charge in 2013 following the departure of Giovanni Trapattoni, winning his first game 3-0 against Latvia. O’Neill has won eight of his 20 games in charge of the national team, drawing seven and losing just the five.
Who’s been their star man?
Having played the most games in qualifying for his nation (10), John O’Shea always seems to prove his doubters wrong when he pulls on an Irish shirt. Rescuing a point with the equalising goal against world champions Germany in his side’s third game, the Sunderland defender has inspired his country to compete in a relatively difficult group. Robbie Keane also deserves a mention, scoring five goals in nine games, despite being 35. This included a hat-trick against minnows Gibraltar, in his side’s 7-0 demolition of the part-timers.
Will they be seen as a big threat?
Having come through qualifying unbeaten against Germany, taking four points from them, Ireland have proven that they can compete against the best in the world. They have both pace and creativity in their side, but they have also shown that, when needed to, they will dig in to grind out results. They won’t be favourites to qualify through the play-offs, but they will certainly put up a good fight. If the draw is kind to them and they put in the same performances they did against Germany, then they have every chance of reaching the Euros.