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Counting chickens: here's all you need to know about Ireland's 12 potential Euro 2012 opponents

Who can Ireland get in tomorrow’s draw? How will they fare if they do get them? Find out in our brief review of each team that we may or may not face.

WITH THE EURO 2012 draw set to take place at 5.30pm tomorrow, here’s the lowdown on all of Ireland’s potential opponents…

Pot 1:

(Xavi is the lynchpin of the Spanish midfield – AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Spain

How they got on in qualifying: Unsurprisingly, they strolled through the group stages, winning all their matches and making short work of Scotland and Czech Republic amongst others.

Best player: Xavi – the Barcelona man is the player that makes Spain tick. His record of only 10 goals in 107 internationals may be less than spectacular, but his creativity is second to none, and he possesses a pass completion ratio that would put most other midfielders to shame.

Could Ireland beat them? Not unless Ireland pull a Switzerland (or indeed an England).

Netherlands

How they got on in qualifying: Relatively well. They only lost one match – 3-2 against Sweden in their last game – and by that stage, they’d already qualified. They did have a seemingly very easy group though, and were thus able to whip the likes of San Marino 11-0.

Best player: Wesley Sneijder – their creative outlet. It was no surprise that United tried desperately to sign the midfielder who spearheaded Inter’s Champions League triumph in 2010. He also proved an integral part of the Dutch side that reached the 2010 World Cup final.

Could Ireland beat them? It’s not entirely unthinkable. Their defence could hardly be described as world class and while players such as Van Persie and Van der Vaart are talented, they are also often unreliable and injury prone.

Poland

How they got on in qualifying: They qualified automatically as co-hosts, and their recent friendly results have been sporadically impressive if inconsistent. They beat Argentina 2-1 for instance, but also lost to Lithuania 2-0.

Best player: Arguably Jakub Blaszczykowski (try pronouncing that), who despite only being 25, already has 48 caps and is captain of the side. He plays for a top side in Borussia Dortmund and was voted Polish player of the year in 2008, as well as the Borussia Dortmund fans’ Player of the Year in 2009.

Could Ireland beat them? Undoubtedly. Drawing Poland rather than either of the two aforementioned teams would constitute a major psychological boost for Trap’s side. That said, playing them in their home venue could prove intimidating, and tournament hosts invariably tend to punch above their weight.

Ukraine

How they got on in qualifying: Again, they qualified automatically as co-hosts. They have been poor in recent friendlies, only winning one of their last eight games.

Best player: While he may not be the player he once was, it’s hard to look past Andriy Shevchenko. With 46 goals in 105 internationals, he is the Ukrainian equivalent of Robbie Keane and he has been in decent form since his return to Dynamo Kyiv, garnering the Ukrainian Player of the Year accolade in 2009.

Could Ireland beat them? Similarly to Poland, Ireland would fancy their chances against Ukraine, as they arguably have the better players of the two sides.

Who Ireland would prefer to draw in numerical order: 1. Poland 2. Ukraine 3. Netherlands 4. Spain

Pot 2

(Rooney will miss England’s first three Euro 2012 games – Mike Egerton/EMPICS Sport)

Germany

How they got on in qualifying: Germany were entirely untroubled during the qualifying stages, winning all ten of their group games.

Best player: Metsut Ozil seemingly emerged from nowhere to become one of the stars of the 2010 World Cup, dictating games with his composure on the ball and intelligent passing. He has since continued his fine form as part of Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid side.

Could Ireland beat them? Chances of victory are minimal, sadly. Germany are arguably the side most likely to prevent Spain from completing an unprecedented hat-trick of tournament victories, and are strong in every area of the field.

Italy

How they got on in qualifying: They progressed without too much trouble, winning eight of their ten games and drawing the other two. However, they were in a group in which Estonia managed to finish second.

Best player: The Italian team appears to be one in transition, with players such as Balotelli and Rossi looking to become established names on the international stage. Nonetheless, Juventus playmaker Andrea Pirlo, despite being 32, is one of their few players whose reputation strikes fear into the hearts of opponents. His recent inclusion in FIFPro World XI shortlist suggests his powers have yet to wane.

Could Ireland beat them? Actually, they already did. In addition they also drew twice with Italy in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers, so drawing them would hardly be an especially daunting prospect.

England

How they got on in qualifying: Again, they qualified with relative ease, finishing six points ahead of runners-up Montenegro, despite drawing three of their eight games.

Best player: Wayne Rooney – the fact that the possibility of dropping him from the squad has not even been considered, even though he is suspended for his side’s first three games, indicates how important he is to the team.

Could Ireland beat them? Some critics have suggested Ireland would fare better against a side like England, who have a similar style of play to Trap’s men, rather than a technically superior side such as Russia. Even so, England have the better players, and so a victory for Ireland would likely be dependant on everything going right for the Boys in Green and Capello’s side underperforming, as they often do in major tournaments.

Russia

How they got on in qualifying: Needless to say, they qualified automatically from Ireland’s group. Nonetheless, their record was far from exemplary, as they lost one and drew three of their ten games.

Best player: On his day, Andrey Arshavin is absolutely untouchable. However, much will depend on the mood of this notoriously sulky player, as to whether Russia can live up to their dark horses tag.

Could Ireland beat them? Another heroic Richard Dunne performance and who knows? We’d be more than capable of nicking a goal surely, especially if their defence is still as vulnerable as it looked when Russia came to Dublin last year.

Who Ireland would prefer to draw in numerical order: 1. Russia 2. Italy 3. England 4. Germany

Pot 3

(Ronaldo has a tendency to underperform at international level – AP Photo/Armando Franca)

Croatia

How they got on in qualifying: It was by no means a straightforward passage to Euro 2012. They lost two (including an embarrassing defeat against Georgia) and drew one of their qualifying games. However, they advanced via the play-offs in impressive fashion, beating Turkey 3-0 on aggregate.

Best player: Luka Modric: one of the players of the season so far in the Premier League, Modric is as integral to the Croatian side as he is to the Tottenham one.

Could Ireland beat them? Their draw in a recent friendly would indicate that this prospect is not beyond the realms of possibility, however Ireland will be eager to avoid them, given their supreme proficiency in possession.

Greece:

How they got on in qualifying: They were in the same group as Croatia and generally performed impressively, going unbeaten in all ten qualifiers. They did only manage draws against Latvia and Georgia though.

Best player: 23-year-old Sokratis Papastathopoulos is a player of enormous promise. Currently on loan at Werder Bremen, he is one of the few members of the squad to play outside the Greek league and has been compared to Tony Adams.

Could Ireland beat them? They’d go into the game fancying their chances, as Greece are arguably the team most reminiscent of Ireland in the tournament. However, as was amply demonstrated in 2004, the Greeks should not be underestimated.

Portugal:

How they got on in qualifying: They had a more difficult time than they should have, finishing second in their group to Denmark, and eventually qualifying with a 6-2 aggregate defeat of Bosnia in the play-offs.

Best player: With an astonishing 82 goals in 76 Real Madrid appearances, it has to be Cristiano Ronaldo. However, like Portugal, Ronaldo can often be erratic and unpredictable, especially on the international stage.

Could Ireland beat them? If teams such as Denmark and Norway were capable of beating them in the qualifying stages, it would be foolish to bet against Trap’s team should they encounter the Portuguese in the group stages.

Sweden:

How they got on in qualifying: As usual, Sweden performed above expectations and managed to beat Netherlands in their final game to secure the best runners-up spot.

Best player: Zlatan Ibrahimovic is often criticised for his perceived laziness, but players don’t get signed for €69 million by Barcelona without possessing a considerable degree of talent.

Could Ireland beat them? In short: yes. They possess similar qualities to them – they are workmanlike without being spectacularly talented – and arguably represent the team Ireland would be happiest to draw in Pot 3.

Who Ireland would prefer to draw in numerical order: 1. Sweden 2. Greece 3. Croatia 4. Portugal

Therefore, dream group = Sweden, Poland and Russia, while nightmare group = Spain, Germany and Portugal.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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