Norwich City trio could clash in Euro 2016 group opener
PUBLISHED: 06:30 14 December 2015
Monday, June 16 is a date that three Norwich City players will have on their minds a great deal during the next six months.
Not only will that be when Wes Hoolahan and Robbie Brady will be hoping to feature in Republic of Ireland’s opening Euro 2016 game – but also Martin Olsson with Sweden.
The Canaries trio could well be on opposing sides for the opening Group E encounter, at the 80,000-seater Stade de France in Paris.
Hoolahan and Brady both played key parts in Ireland’s progression to next summer’s finals, as Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane’s side progressed through the play-offs with a 3-1 aggregate win over Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Brady, who signed for the Canaries from Hull in the summer in a deal thought to be worth around £8million, has 13 caps for his country and has started all of their last 10 matches.
Hoolahan, 10 years Brady’s senior at 33, has 19 caps after struggling to force his way into the plans of former Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni.
O’Neill joked he disliked the Group E draw, which also contains Fifa’s current top ranked team Belgium and another European giant in Italy, but vowed to leave no stone unturned after his team were handed a tough task.
“I thought I was going to enjoy the draw, I’m not sure I have done,” the former Norwich manager said with a smile. “Now we can take time out to study opposition players so that by the time of the games we know everything about them. There is no reason why we shouldn’t.
“It couldn’t get tougher. Italy should be in Pot One, they have not dropped down the rankings that much. It’s difficult, (they are) games to look forward to for the fans but it couldn’t be tougher for us.
“Sweden is a game to look forward to, so let’s go for it. Sweden are not a one-man team, they were quite strong in qualifying but (Zlatan) Ibrahimovic is a top class player.
“About 90 minutes ago I would have said we were delighted to be here, now I’m not so sure! Our support will be fantastic, and this is great for them.”
After their opening encounter with Sweden, Ireland head to Bordeaux to play Belgium on June 18 and finish against Italy in Lille on June 22.
Goalkeeper Shay Given tweeted: “Tough draw for us @FAIreland but still very excited about next summer, bring it on.”
But former Republic of Ireland defender Mark Lawrenson told the BBC the squad’s underdog tag in the group could help them as they have no superstars.
He said: “We are better as underdogs. As soon as they are favourites we collapse. We could be underdogs in all three games. The great thing is we have no star players.
“Probably it’s the least talented squad who have ever qualified so that speaks volumes for the manager and Roy Keane and the coaching staff. Because they have no stars they are very difficult to beat. They will have a real go. The last time in the Euros we bombed but I don’t see that happening this time.
“It’s a long way off until we play, players will get injured and have losses of form. You never know.”
Olsson is also a regular for Sweden, playing in their last six matches, including their 4-3 aggregate win over Scandinavian rivals Denmark in the play-offs.
Another Canaries player keeping a close eye on the draw was out-of-favour striker Kyle Lafferty, who played a starring role by scoring seven goals in qualification.
His national manager, Michael O’Neill, says he will seek help from his Scotland and Republic of Ireland counterparts ahead of their European Championship debut in France next summer.
O’Neill’s side were placed in the same group as world champions Germany, Poland and Ukraine at the draw in Paris.
Both the Republic and Scotland played Germany and Poland in qualifying, and O’Neill revealed he has already spoken to Republic assistant boss Roy Keane.
Republic manager Martin O’Neill and Scotland boss Gordon Strachan can also expect a call, with Michael O’Neill telling the BBC: “I’ll certainly speak to both Martin and Gordon. I’ve actually just had a quick chat with Roy Keane at breakfast and he was offering any help they can give us.
“We know a fair bit about Poland anyway and we obviously know the threat of (Robert) Lewandowski. The Ukrainians are a bit more unknown to us but I think one of the real strong points of our preparation has always been our level of detail on the opposition.”
Northern Ireland will become very familiar with Germany having also been drawn against Joachim Low’s side in qualification for the 2018 World Cup – although can take inspiration from the Republic beating the world champions 1-0 in Dublin in October.
O’Neill accepts they will have to upset the odds to make an impact in France, but they have already done so by topping their qualifying group.
The Northern Ireland boss said: “They (Germany) were maybe the pot one team that I didn’t want but, having been drawn in it and got my head around it, I think it’s a fantastic game for us. To get the opportunity to play the world champions in Paris in a major tournament is going to be a great occasion. And hopefully when we get to that stage, which is our third game, we’ll have a real prize at the end of that game.
“On paper there’s perhaps easier groups but I also think when you get the world champions in your group, everyone will expect them to top the group, so in many ways it turns it into a mini group of three with ourselves, Ukraine and Poland.
“I certainly believe we can be competitive in that company. I think we proved that in qualification and we have to believe we can get out of the group.”