Johnny Giles Steps Down from RTE

The European Championships are over and not only were issues on the pitch important, but one story that may have slipped under the radar for a lot of people, was the TV retirement from RTE of Johnny Giles.

John had decided before the tournament that this would be his last, mind you I feel the national broadcaster could have done a lot more to keep him. It was not to be and when France and Portugal finally brought the curtain down on the 2016 Euro's, one of the greatest analysts in the history of the game called time as well.

A lot of the readers of this article will remember Johnny Giles as a midfield maestro for Leeds United and the Republic of Ireland. When Don Revie was appointed England manager, the story goes that Revie told the Leeds board to appoint John as his successor, alas politics got in the way and Johnny missed out, a dreadful decision in my opinion. John Giles is arguably the greatest player to have pulled on the green shirt of the Republic of Ireland. His playing career saw him appear for Manchester United, Leeds United, West Bromwich Albion, Vancouver Whitecaps and Shamrock Rovers. John also managed West Bromwich Albion, Vancouver Whitecaps, Shamrock Rovers and the Republic of Ireland. Whilst in charge of Ireland, John handed a debut to Liam Brady against the USSR in October 1974.

When John finally hung up his boots on what can only be described as a fantastic football career, both on and off the pitch, he was approached by RTE to join their panel in 1986. The main reason that RTE asked John was on the advice of his friend Eamon Dunphy. Both John and Eamon went back a long way and were teammates at Manchester United. The decision to get John involved was one of the best decisions by any producer in the history of any football programme. John took to his new pundit role like a duck to water.

Over the years he has been involved in eight world cups, eight european championships and numerous other games the national broadcaster decided to show, calling every game as if it was his first. His knowledge of the game was second to none and very rarely called a game wrong. The gift John had, was to call it as he saw it and not to give the public any bullshit.

It was John's straight talking that got him into bother in the nineties when he was asked on Sky to analyse a Leeds United game, the match was dreadful and John said so, this was total shock horror to Sky as they never like to run down their own product. It was John's one and only appearance on Sky to analyse a game and in my opinion not having him on a regular basis was their loss.

Over the years the RTE panel has had its changes, but when Liam Brady was introduced to join John and Eamon, things could have not got any better. Over the years the three would argue out talking points and this would make great television, in fact if you ever get a chance, have a look at some of the famous arguments and I am sure you will agree John Giles was brilliant.

Over the past few years the station has been bringing through younger pundits and this seems to be the way RTE want to go. We will never see the likes of Johnny Giles again as a football pundit and in my opinion the show will be poorer for his absence. The midfield general has not gone completely as he remains the top football analyst for Newstalk Radio in Ireland.

John Giles is and always will be my hero. I have met the man on many occasions and the man is a true gentleman. The stories John tells would have you sitting in awe. The modern game I feel has caught up with John, and as he moves on let us all thank him for the memories. A little known fact about John is that if you put a gin and tonic in his hand, he can give you a good sing song. Let us all hope he has plenty to sing about over the coming years and may we all once again thank him for the memories.

The Irish Party is Over

Last weekend we saw the Uk leave the European Union, a decision that has sent shockwaves around the world. The weekend also saw the start of the knockout phase in the 2016 European Championships.

Having qualified from a group that contained Italy, Belgium and Sweden the Republic of Ireland travelled to Lyon to take on the hosts France. The Irish were travelling on a crest of a wave after beating Italy to qualify for the knockout stage. Martin O'Neill and his team were upbeat and really fancied the challenge that lay ahead of them. The emotion that had swept across the country since the victory over the Italians was overwhelming.

There was no doubt about it, the game against the French was going to be tough for the Irish and with only a few days rest between games they needed to be ready.

On Sunday morning, flights carrying thousands of Irish fans left from all parts of the country to go to France to roar on the team. You could have sent ten times the amount of fans that actually travelled, but unfortunately tickets were very scarce and the vast majority of fans in the ground for the game would be French. The pressure on the French side was immense and anything but a win for them would have been a disaster. So how did it develop on the pitch? Could Martin O'Neill and his squad pull off the shock of all shocks?

Going into the game, Martin O'Neill knew a defeat would see his squad having to board a plane back home to Dublin. He knew that the French would be a tough team to play, as the hosts in these competitions seem to always get the rub of the green, a lot of worry was directed at Italian referee Rizzoli, who needed to have an impeccable game and have no questionable decisions. The Irish need not have worried on that score because the Italian was brilliant on the day.

Martin named an unchanged side for the game and it showed the confidence he had in the eleven as it was the first time that he had named an unchanged side since he took over the Irish job. Straight from the start the Irish went at the French and unbelievably were awarded a penalty in the second minute when Long was upended by Pogba. Referee Rizzoli would have possibly got away with not giving it as I thought the Irish forward played for it, who cared, the French were owed one from the infamous Henry handball. Step up Robbie Brady and bang, off the post, Ireland were in the lead. It was an amazing start by the Irish and it really shook up Didier Deschamp's side.

Martin O'Neill could not have been more prouder of his Irish team after their first half performance as they really put it up to the French, although in hindsight they probably took the lead to early. At half time, if reports are to be believed the French squad had a huge row in the dressing room and whatever was said it had the effect needed. The French were a far better organised team in the second half and they turned the game around.

Two goals from Griezemann sealed the Irish teams faith and the dream was coming to an end. When Shane Duffy received a red card for a professional foul, moments after Griezemann had got the second goal, the game was effectively over. Right up to the final whistle the ten men left on the field for Ireland gave it everything. It was only bad luck that stood in their way of an equaliser. As the final whistle blew, the Irish team knew the end of the road had arrived, but without a doubt they were brilliant at the tournament. So last Monday they boarded that plane back to Dublin.

If you look back to the tournament from an Irish perspective, everyone has to have been happy. Martin O'Neill has really found out about his players and now he can use this going forward to the World Cup Qualifiers. Players like Brady, Hendrick, Long, Coleman, Randolph and McClean have had a superb tournament and can only get better at international level.

Going into the tournament, a lot of people had Ireland as the whipping boys of the group, but they proved everyone wrong. The spirit and the fight in the squad was unbelievable and as a man they pulled together for each other. They lost to France, but they did give them an almighty shock early on.

A lot of other teams went out of the tournament without as much as an effort and I include England in those numbers. But the boys in green stood up and fought for each other, the spirit generated in the camp has to be congratulated. When the second goal went past Randolph last Sunday, the Irish fans who have been a credit to their country knew the dream was over.

The stories that have come out of France about their impeccable behaviour has been amazing. Last Sunday night the party was over for the Irish in France, but on the horizon is another campaign and I feel in two years time that after their display in France, Martin O'Neill and his squad will be starting another party at the World Cup Finals in Russia. Come on You Boys in Green.

Italy v Spain match review

In what was dubbed one of the biggest games in the tournament so far, Italy beat Spain 2-0 to knock the holders out of the competition. Thanks to a brilliant performance from the Italians.

Italy v Spain

Chiellini (33), Pellè (90+1)

This is how the teams lined up

Italy (3-5-2)

Buffon, Chiellini, Bonucci, Barzagli, De Sciglio, Giaccherini, De Rossi, Parolo, Florenzi, Eder, Pellè

Spain (4-3-3)

De Gea, Alba, Ramos, Pique, Juanfran, Iniesta, Busquets, Fabregas, Nolito, Morata, Silva

It was a game in which Italy deserved to go through and if it wasn't David De Gea the Spanish goalkeeper, the Italians may have been out of sight and scored more goals.

Here is a summary of the key moments from the game.

Italy started the brighter of the two teams and in the 8th minute of the game, they had a great chance to the take the lead. A free kick from Alessandro Florenzi was meet by Graziano Pelle who directed a powerful header towards goal, but David De Gea made a brilliant save to turn it behind for a corner.

Two minutes later Italy had another great chance to take the lead, Florenzi sent a ball into the box. The ball found it way to Emanuele Giaccherini who connected with a spectacular overhead kick, but De Gea made another great save. He tipped the ball onto the post, but it would not have counted as the referee gave a free kick to Spain for a high boot.

Spain tried to get themselves into the game and in the 19th mintue, Cesc Fabregas had a shot blocked after a pass from Celta Vigo winger Nolito

Italy though were looking threatening and they had a decent chance in the 24th minute to make it 2-0, when a cross from Mattia De Sciglio found Marco Parolo. Who could only head wide after making a late run into the box.

Spain were still trying to get their noses in front. On 27 minutes Nolito's corner found Andres Iniesta whose shot was straight at Gianluigi Buffon the Italian goalkeeper.

Embed from Getty Images

A minute later Italy almost went in front, De Sciglio sent a low cross into the penalty area and Spanish centre back Sergio Ramos almost turned the ball into his own net. Ramos did however manage to turn the ball away for a corner.

However on the 33rd minute Italy finally got the breakthrough, a free kick from Eder on the edge of the box was saved from De Gea. However he could only parry it into the path of Giorgio Chiellini, who turned the ball home to gave Italy the lead. Italy 1-0 Spain.

Italy almost made it 2-0 on 44 minutes when Pellè passed the ball to Giaccherini. He then unleashed a powerful shot at goal, but De Gea made a sensational save to turn the ball away for a corner.

Half time Italy 1-0 Spain

Spain came out trying to get an equaliser. Spanish striker Alvaro Morata had a free header from just outside the six yard box, but could only guide the ball into the arms of Buffon.

Fabregas then had an effort three minutes later, but his shot sailed over Buffon's crossbar.

Then Italy had a glorious chance to make it 2-0 on 56 minutes, Pellè flick the ball Eder who raced away from Ramos. Eder found himself one on one with De Gea, but the goalkeeper made a superb block to keep the score at 1-0.

Italy then had another great chance to make 2-0 on 61 minutes, De Sciglio put a low cross into the box. But there was no one there to turn it home and Spain cleared the ball away after a brief scramble in the box.

Spain were still a threat and they had a decent chance to equalise on 70 minutes. Fabregas' pass found substitute Aritiz Aduriz whose first time shot curled past Buffon's far post.

Embed from Getty Images

A minute or two later Spain had a corner which was delivered by Fabregas. The ball found Ramos, but he could only head over the bar. Better from Spain.

Spain were now pressing for an equaliser, substitute Lucas Vazquez sent a ball over to Iniesta whose first time volley was push away by Buffon for a corner.

A minute later Spanish centre back Gerard Pique struck a powerful effort. However Buffon was equal to it and the ball was cleared.

Italy were a threat on the break and were looking for a goal that would seal victory. With five minutes remaining, substitute Lorenzo Insigne had a shot that was saved by De Gea after running from the halfway line with the ball.

On the 90 minute mark Spain almost forced extra time, by nearly getting an equalising goal. De Gea's long ball was headed into Pique's path by Italian defender Andrea Barzagli. Pique volleyed the ball towards goal, but Buffon the Italian goalkeeper made an incredible instinctive save to keep it out.

Italy then made their spot in the quarter finals safe with a second goal in the first minute of added on time. A long pass found substitute Matteo Darmian, he cross the ball into the box. The ball took a deflection Ramos into the path of Pellè, who smashed the ball home with De Gea will beaten. To make it Italy 2-0 Spain.

Full time Italy 2-0 Spain

Star man - Graziano Pellè

Embed from Getty Images

Not only did he get the all important goal that sealed Italy's place in the quarter finals against Germany. But his hold up play and link up play through out the game was excellent. This was shown when Pellè released Eder one on one with De Gea after a fantastic flick. When the Italians face the Germans in the quarter finals, he will make a huge difference as to whether or not Italy get through.

 

 

 

England exit Euro 2016

England exit Euro 2016, another tournament defeats the team, and another tournament claims the job of the England manager. Roy Hodgson resigns immediately after the final whistle.

The pundits are now bickering on what went wrong and twitter is awash with strategies that should have been, and players that shouldn't have started.

Roy Hodgson quitsIn a game where Roy 'tinkered' again, by bringing in Kane, Sterling, Walker and Rose, dropping Vardy and Lallana to the bench and not using the excellent Clyne or Bertrand, he seemed to be slipping back into his old ways. It wasn't long before the majority of England fans realised Kane was taking free kicks again!

The game started on a high with Sterling immediately onto a long flick and brought down in the box by the Iceland goalkeeper, to be awarded a penalty which Rooney swiftly converted. The deficit was quickly eroded after the hallmark long throw into the box through which England have so busily been preparing for according to Hodgson, and converted past Hart by an unmarked Sigurdsson. England were punished again in the 18th minute through Sigthorsson's shot which Hart should have stopped but the ball went through his hands - where have we heard that one before?

there are several thousand England fans in France who sold their wives to watch their team tonight

Iceland then dug in and despite changes which didn't introduce Lallana at all, Wilshere (considering some of the part timers for Iceland have probably played more minutes than he has) was introduced for Dier on the 45th, Vardy for Sterling on the 60th, and it wasn't until Rashford's introduction for Rooney on the 86th where some sense of urgency seemed apparent.

England exit euro 2016Rashford managed to weave his way through 3 Iceland defenders on his first run and two on his second before winning two corners. Something England hadn't managed in the previous 86 minutes!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBGlJ0YOrQ0

So England are out and within minutes of that debacle of a performance, Roy Hodgson was in front of the camera's with a pre-written statement and taking no questions.

Where do we go from here? England exit Euro 2016 and it is clear something is wrong. As one of the richest footballing nations, we cannot seem to put together a team that can win a major tournament. It is clear some of the players were doing things that they never should have - Kane free kicks - and clear (to me) some players should never have gone, with equal resignation that quite a few players should have gone and been in the starting line-ups (Drinkwater, Albrighton, Noble).

England needs a shake up and a few of these £200,000 a week players need to step up to the mark as there are several thousand England fans in France who sold their wives to watch England exit Euro 2016 tonight!

 

 

Robbie Brady's Delight

Stade Pierre-Mauroy was the place to be on Wednesday night if you were an Irish fan. Martin O'Neill's Irish team were there to play their final group game against Italy. The game came on the back of an awful defeat to Belgium. Since that game the Irish squad had come in for some serious criticism from all corners of the Irish footballing world. Their performance against the Belgians was very disappointing and the pressure was now on to come up with a positive result against the Italians. In fact, the only way Ireland could advance in the tournament was to win the game.

Irish fans travelled with a lot of hope, but many were very worried about the outcome of the game. How was Martin O'Neill going to lift a squad who had been so down after the defeat by the Belgians? One thing for certain was, another performance like the one against the Belgians and the Irish team would be coming home. So how did it develop on the night? What was to be the outcome against an Italian side who had already qualified from the group?

When the team sheet was handed into UEFA by Martin O'Neill, to say he had sprung a few changes would be the understatement of the century. He had decided to go with a new centre half pairing of Keogh and Duffy, he also put James McClean in from the start. Up front he took a huge gamble and started Darryl Murphy who has yet to find the net for an Irish team.

The Irish manager's team talk must have had the players climbing the walls before kick off, because after only two minutes Seamus Coleman put a challenge in on his opponent that set the tone for the rest of the game. The Irish got stuck in and rattled the Italians, a side not afraid to dish out the hard stuff as well. It was the up and at them attitude that all the Irish fans wanted to see. If this Irish team were to fail in their search for a victory at least they would have done it by giving it everything in the locker.

Ireland without a doubt should have been awarded a penalty in the first half when the brilliant McClean was pushed over in the penalty area. It was an awful decision by the Romanaian referee, who was sent home from the tournament on Thursday, probably as a result of his performance in the game. Not getting the penalty could have destroyed the Irish confidence but it seemed to only push them on even more.

Irish fans travelled with a lot of hope

Late in the second half it seemed that all the hard work would show for nothing as Ireland could just not break down a strong Italian defence. It was just not happening and the tactic of trying to nick a goal from a corner or free kick was been dealt with excellently by the Italians. Then in the eighty fourth minute a golden opportunity to take the lead fell to Wes Hoolahan, he got in clean on goal and only had to hit the ball either side of the keeper to score. It was unbelievable when he struck the ball straight at the keeper. You could literally hear everyone's heart in Ireland stop as Wes held his head in his hands.

The Hoolahan miss would probably be the one thing the Irish fans would talk about over the coming years. Wes must have wanted the ground to open up and swallow him. He could so easily have gone into his shell and hide away for the rest of the game, but instead in the blink of an eye he crossed a brilliant ball for Robbie Brady to head home and send the Irish fans into football heaven. It was one of the best team goals of the tournament and ironically the move was started by Robbie Brady inside his own penalty area. I still do not know how he had the energy left in his legs to run the full length of the pitch and get into the Italian penalty area. It was a goal richly deserved by the Irish and their whole work ethic on the night was fantastic.

Martin O'Neil had to be so proud of his players for one of the best performances by an Irish side ever to enter a football field. Brady,s goal had put them through in what many people said was the toughest group in the competition.

I still do not know how he had the energy left in his legs to run the full length of the pitch

Next up for Ireland is France in the last sixteen. A game against the hosts that will be a tough challenge. It is also a game that has the added spice of the Irish owing the French one, everybody remembers the Henry hand ball goal back in 2009.

Martin O'Neill will not have much of a team talk to do, as all the players will want to repay the hosts for their cheating antics in that World Cup Qualifier. Last Wednesday night the football gods shined down on the Irish team and their fans. On Sunday Ireland will come to a stand still and you will not get a vacant seat in the pubs and restaurants, the atmosphere will be rocking, and if the team manage a win you will have lift off.

There is only one way that Ireland can win the game in my opinion and that is to go at the French right from the start. The hosts will be under huge pressure and hopefully the Irish can burst their balloon early on. Can you imagine the scenes if Ireland get an early goal? On Sunday it will all be sorted out by the footballing gods and no matter what the outcome is, the Irish fans will party well into the night and maybe the coming week. Come on You Boys in Green.

Battered by the Belgians

For a team that is ranked second in the world, there are a lot of questions been asked about Belgium. If you look at their squad in great detail you will see that they have an amazing amount of talented players.

I myself have been very critical of the Belgians as a team over the past couple of months. I have pointed out that manager Mark Wilmots may have superstars, but he has failed to galvanise them as a team. When you take into consideration the fact that Belgium have not won anything and were very poor in the 2014 World Cup, you have to wonder as to how the bookmakers can have them as one of the favourites for the competition.

It amused me even more, when they lost their opening game against Italy, they not only lost the match but they never produced anything on the day. So going into the game against Ireland, they were under huge pressure. Also if reports were to be believed, there was a lot of rows going on between some players and the coaching staff.

This news must have been like sweet music to the ears of the Irish players, as we all know the Irish team are a very solid bunch and you very rarely hear of any unrest. So how did it all unfold on the day? The whole game developed in a way that I and thousands of Irish fans could not have imagined. Football can be so cruel at times.

Going into the game Martin O'Neill knew he would be without the injured Jon Walters. I like many others were watching to see how O'Neill would change things. I expected James McClean to come in for Walters and when it was announced that Stephen Ward would start, I knew there was trouble ahead. It gave me an insight as to how the manager was thinking and without a doubt he was sending his team out to try and get a draw in my opinion.

I do not want people to think I have a problem with Stephen Ward as he will always put in a good shift and is very good defensively, but when it comes to getting forward James McClean was the better option.

It was the day that Belgium finally turned up and to be perfectly honest, looked an excellent side. Once they scored their first goal through Lukaku, there was no way back for the boys in green and it only highlighted what this Irish team lacks. At one nil down it was always going to be an uphill struggle and O'Neills team had no one who could get hold of the ball and just take the sting out of it.

I do not like to critisize a manager who has done wonders with this group of players, but on Saturday he got his tactics totally wrong. Pumping the ball up to Shane Long all the time and hoping for something to break was ridiculous, in fact sometimes the ball was coming to Long up around his neck. If Shane was not getting the ball it was coming straight back at the Irish defence and they never got a breather for the whole of the second half. Witsel effectively finished the game in the sixtieth minute, he came between defenders and finished with a powerful header.

Now this is where it got very annoying for a lot of the Irish fans, myself included. Just after the second goal the Irish manager decided to bring on James McClean, far, far to late in my opinion. James should have been on after Ireland went one down, to give the team a chance to at least get back in the game. The Belgium third goal just rubbed salt into the Irish wounds. This defeat was the worst since Martin O'Neiil took over and I know a lot of the players were hurting in the dressing room after the game. The defeat was bad enough, but the three goals has now given the Irish an awful goal difference, something that might come back to hurt them in a couple of days.

Next up for the Irish is a game against Italy, who have already qualified for the knockout stage. It is an Italian side that has surprised a lot of people and as per usual they have shown when it comes to tournament football, they are always prepared.

I really am struggling to put forward any argument that the Irish can beat Italy on Wednesday night. The talk in certain sections of the media is that Italian manager Conte will field a weakened team as they have already qualified. No matter what team Conte puts out he will have them well prepared and organised. On Wednesday night the Irish team need to up their game, run themselves into the ground and if things go right, maybe, just maybe they will get a positive result.

The Irish fans in France have had a fantastic time and have been a credit to there country. If the football gods want to repay them for their behaviour, they could give them the result that will give them at least one more game in the tournament. If it all goes wrong, the fans like the team will be heading home and the party in France will be over.

Republic of Ireland v Sweden

On Monday morning over 5000 Republic of Ireland fans arrived in Dublin Airport, to board planes to take them to the 2016 European Championships Finals in France. They were playing catch up to over 90,000 of their fellow fans who had departed this Island and set up camp in Paris. What lay ahead was the opening game of Ireland's campaign against Sweden.

I mingled and spoke with a lot of the fans as they stood in orderly lines waiting to board their planes. The chat was mostly about how we were going to do in the opening game and if any problems lay ahead in France on arrival. A lot of the talk focussed on how much trouble, that had been going on in France over the weekend and how would it impinge on the success of the tournament and their safe passage, there and back. It is amazing how hooligans can ruin it for everyone, even just the worry can ruin a trip before the wheels of the plane have even left the runway. On this occasion the reports coming back were that it had been all organised, especially by the Russians. But the overwhelming feeling of the travelling Irish fans was that they we're going to the party and they were going to bring that special attitude that all Irish fans are known for, when they travel abroad to the major finals. In their way to an opening success was a Swedish team with one Zlatan up front. What game plan was Martin O'Neill going to use? How would it all pan out? Would we see any of the shenanigans that had brought only doom and gloom around the tournament? Would we fiddlesticks! Ireland had arrived and they wanted to party.

Inside the stadium the atmosphere was electric and both sets of supporters were in fine voice. On the field Martin O'Neill could not have been happier with a brilliant performance by his team. Jeff Hendrick, Wes Hoolihan and all the rest of the lads put in a great shift. In fairness if Ireland had taken all of the three points on offer, no one would have begrudged them their victory. The first half performance saw the boys in green go at the Swedes and cause them all sorts of problems. They were unlucky not to take the lead when a Jeff Hendrick shot came back off the crossbar. The way Ireland played in the first half was with total freedom and it was if Martin had told the lads go out and express themselves. It was a team playing without fear and total freedom to do what they wanted. When the goal came, it was created by an incredible run by Seamus Coleman down the Swedish left, his cross was hammered home by Wes Hoolihan on his weaker right foot. It was a goal the Irish totally deserved but unfortunately they were unable to hold onto the one nil lead.

Many of you know that I am of the opinion that if you stop Zlatan, you stop Sweden, something John O'Shea should have done for their equaliser. When Zlatan ran at John in the box, the Irish defender should have eased him out towards the goal line and at worst give away a corner. But John failed to do this and allowed Zlatan to get a cross in which unfortunately was put into his own net by Clark. It was schoolboy defending by O'Shea and bad schoolboy defending at that. A lot of people were pointing the finger at Clark after the game but the blame in my opinion should have been aimed at John O'Shea, a player with his experience should have done better. In the end it was a point well earned and probably something every Irish fan would have hoped for before the game. On the down side of things Jon Walters picked up an achilles injury which will make him doubtful for the rest of the tournament.

Up next for Ireland are Belgium on Saturday. The game will bring all sorts of new challenges for Martin O'Neill to have a look at. The Belgians are coming into the game after a defeat to Italy in their opening match. They were not only beaten by the Italians but they were awful, it was a very poor display by such a talented team. The Belgians have now got to beat a jubilant and very confident Ireland team. From an Irish point of view, in my opinion if Martin O'Neill's men can produce another performance like the one on Monday, they stand a real chance of getting something out of the game. As I am putting this article together it looks like Walter,s will be out for this one and I expect James McClean to start in his place. I doubt if there will be any other changes as the team is still buzzing since Monday. One thing that is certain, no matter what happens, the Irish fans will party before, during and after the game. So come on you Boys in Green and get us a result that might just take us out of this group. Hard work, passion and cool heads will get the job done.

France v Romania match review

In the tournament's opening game we saw late drama as hosts France had to wait 89 minutes for the game winner, scored by West Ham man - Dmitri Payet.

France   2-1    Romania

Giroud (57')    Stancu (64' Pen)

Payet (89')

So the European Championships 2016 officially kicked off last night, as France beat Romania 2-1 at the Stade de France.

This is how the teams lined up.

France (4-3-3)

Lloris, Sagna, Koscielny, Rami, Evra, Kanté, Matuidi, Pogba, Griezmann, Payet, Giroud.

Romania (4-3-3)

Tatarusanu, Sspunaru, Grigore, Chiriches, Rat, Hoban, Pintilii, Stanciu, Popa, Stancu, Andone.

It was a closer game than most people expected, with Romania ultimately being undone by a spectacular 25 yard strike from Dimitri Payet.

Here is a summary of the key moments from the game.

Romania had a great chance to take the lead inside 4 minutes. Bogdan Stancu the left winger had an effort cleared off the line by Hugo Lloris, the French keeper after Stancu got in ahead of the French defence. The resulting corner was headed over the bar.

That was to be Romania's best and only chance of the first half as the hosts got themselves going.

On the 10 minute mark, France created their first chance of the game, a floated cross by Payet found Olivier Giroud, who could only head wide despite finding on space in the box.

This was followed on the 14th minute when right back Bacary Sagna's cross bounced up into the air. In demand forward, Antoine Griezmann pounced but could only hit the post with a header from close range.

Chances then became a premium as both sides pressed for the opener but it was on 35 minutes when Payet's cut-back ball found Griezmann, however his first time shot just went wide of the right hand post.

In the dying minutes of the half, France missed another chance to go in front. Olivier Giroud found space in the 18 yard box, but could only head over from Payet's corner.

The game ended goalless at half time.

At the start of the second half Romania started how they started the first half. Stancu again found some space in the box, but couldn't direct his effort goalwards.

It wasn't until the 56th minute when France got going again. Payet made a great run into the box and found Pogba who hit the ball first time but the Romanian goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu made a brilliant save to turn it behind for a corner.

A minute later, France got the breakthrough.  Payet's floated cross found Giroud who got ahead of Tatarusanu and headed the ball into the bottom corner to give France the lead and the opening goal of this year's European Championship. 1-0 to France on 57 minutes.

Romania fought back and were awarded a penalty after a clumsy challenge by Patrice Evra on Nicolae Stanciu.

Bogdan Stancu stepped up and scored, sending Lloris the wrong way and putting the visitors level at the Stade de France 1-1.

Just like in the first half, chances became a premium as Romania tried to hang onto to a precious point.

However the Romanian's hard work was undone, when on 89 minutes Dimitri Payet, just like he had done for West Ham in the Premier League last season scored a spectacular goal. He picked up the ball and ran before unleashing a 25 yard effort that went into the top left hand corner, with Tatarusanu well beaten. Payet's effort gave France the three points they needed to kick-start their tournament.

Final score: France 2-1 Romania.

Star man - Dimitri Payet

Not only did Payet setup the opening goal and score the 89th winner, he also looked calm and assured on the ball all night long and showed just why he has cemented a place in the starting line-up.

Embed from Getty Images

 

 

Europe Beware

Sweden, Belgium and Italy all in that order, will have to be very careful and not underestimate Republic of Ireland side that arrives in France this week for the European Championship Finals.

If you are to believe all the fans who are going to the finals, they would have you believe anyone can win this tournament. The confidence in the squad at the moment is sky high and all the players are raring to go. Assistant manager Roy Keane believes the squad can go a long way in the finals and if Leicester can win win the Premiership, why can't Ireland do the same as Greece did in the European Championships in 2004 and actually win the whole thing.

The last time an Irish team went to the Finals was 2012 and with the overhype from certain sections of the media that we could have a great tournament, ended in bitter disappointment and the players came home a sad bunch.

This time in my opinion the Irish team should be travelling with cautious optimism, and as a squad they are better organised than in 2012. Manager Martin O'Neill and his coaching staff have put a self belief into his squad that they can beat anyone. To prove this point, all you have to do is look at the results against World Champions Germany in qualifying, a draw and a win that effectively helped his team qualify.

stop Zlatan and you stop the Swedes

Martin has watched his side play four friendlies in the past couple of months and now finally he has put his 23 man list for the Finals into UEFA. One player who will not be on the plane is Bournemouth's Harry Arter who picked up an injury and had to return to his club. A sad blow for both the player and the squad, as in my opinion Harry was the man of the match in the recent game against Holland and was a certain pick for me to get on the plane, alas his time will come again. So exactly who has O'Neill picked to represent Ireland in the Finals?

Republic of Ireland

Goalkeepers

Randolph, Given, Westwood

Defenders

O'Shea, Coleman, Keogh, Duffy, Clark, Christie, Ward

Midfielders

Whelan, McGeady, Brady, McCarthy, McClean, Hendrick, Meyler, Hoolahan, Quinn

Forwards

Long, Keane, Walters, Murphy

8 June 2016; The Republic of Ireland management, front row, from left, goalkeeping coach Seamus McDonagh, manager Martin O'Neill, captain Robbie Keane, assistant manager Roy Keane, coach Steve Walford and coach Steve Guppy, with squad members, from top, Shay Given, Darren Randolph, Robbie Brady, Keiren Westwood, Richard Keogh, Daryl Murphy, Cyrus Christie, Shane Duffy, Glenn Whelan, Stephen Ward, Ciaran Clark, Jeff Hendrick, David Meyler, Aiden McGeady, James McCarthy, Stephen Quinn, Jonathan Walters, Seamus Coleman, James McClean, Shane Long, Wes Hoolahan and John O'Shea board the CityJet flight to Paris for UEFA EURO2016 at Dublin Airport. CityJet is the official partner to the FAI. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile *** NO REPRODUCTION FEE ***

8 June 2016; The Republic of Ireland management, front row, from left, goalkeeping coach Seamus McDonagh, manager Martin O'Neill, captain Robbie Keane, assistant manager Roy Keane, coach Steve Walford and coach Steve Guppy, with squad members, from top, Shay Given, Darren Randolph, Robbie Brady, Keiren Westwood, Richard Keogh, Daryl Murphy, Cyrus Christie, Shane Duffy, Glenn Whelan, Stephen Ward, Ciaran Clark, Jeff Hendrick, David Meyler, Aiden McGeady, James McCarthy, Stephen Quinn, Jonathan Walters, Seamus Coleman, James McClean, Shane Long, Wes Hoolahan and John O'Shea board the CityJet flight to Paris for UEFA EURO2016 at Dublin Airport. CityJet is the official partner to the FAI. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

These twenty three names may not all be superstars, but in a group they will be extremely hard to beat.

Ireland's first match is against Sweden and it is vitally important they avoid defeat. I feel Martin O'Neills side have a strong chance to get something from the Swedish game as they themselves only qualified through the play offs and are quite a bit overhyped. Their star player is Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but I feel Ireland have enough as a defensive unit to keep him quite. This I believe will be the tatic to give the boys in green a chance to start with victory, stop Zlatan and you stop the Swedes.

It is a big concern to me as to where the goals will come from for Ireland and set pieces will be vital. I expect Robbie Brady to be in the starting line up and his deliveries from corner and kick free kicks will be vital for the Irish. If Ireland can get off to a good start, you never know where it will all end up. I am not convinced about all the talk about Belgium as they have done nothing yet as a squad and they themselves were dealt a big blow on the eve of the tournament, with the loss of Vincent Kompany. Ireland,s third game will all the depend on the outcome of the opening two games and if Ireland are on a roll the Italians better thread carefully.

Having got Ireland to these Finals Martin O'Neill was very reluctant to talk about a new contract and wanted to leave any discussions until after the tournament. But news broke yesterday that himself and his whole coaching staff have agreed a deal that will take them to the 2018 World Cup. It is a great piece of news that came out of the squads base in Fota Island and only adds to the feel good factor around the group. It will also kill off any speculation during the finals if any managerial posts become available during the finals, as over the past couple of months once a vacancy somewhere has arisen Roy Keane has been linked with it, this can lead to a sideshow at all press conferences and briefings during the tournament. So well done to the FAI for getting a deal in place before anybody boards the plane for France. So with only a few days left to the Sweden game, Europe Beware, the Irish are heading to France on business and underestimate Martin O'Neills green and white army at your peril.

Euro 2016 - Group F Preview

Group F is there for the taking for Ronaldo's Portugal but can David Alaba's Austria cause the upset.

Iceland are the hipsters choice and Hungary could just be there to make up the numbers.

Portugal

Qualifying record:

7 wins, 1 loss.

Top scorer:

Cristiano Ronaldo (5)

Projected top performer:

Renato Sanches  - The obvious answer would be to select CR7 for this answer but we all know what he's about already. Sanches was coverted by many of the worlds top teams prior to the end of last season before eventually signing for Bayern Munich in a deal which overall could cost the German giants €80 million.

He comes into the tournament off the back of breaking Ronaldos 12 year record of being the youngest international player for Portugal. At just 18 years old he could be the player to watch in the Euros with all the focus being set on Ronaldo, Sanches could shine bright and even overshadow his goalscoring machine team mate.

Expectations:

The Portuguese have always been something of a let down at major tournaments especially in the Ronaldo era, they should breeze through the group stage but after that it's anyone's guess.

Austria

Qualifying record:

9 wins, 1 draw.

Top scorer:

Marc Janko (7)

Projected top performer:

David Alaba - After strolling through what, on paper seemed a tough qualifying group Austria are very much in the dark horse category for the summer spectacle.

Bayern Munich star David Alaba is key to this success, whether playing in defence or as a midfielder Alaba has the class to hang with the big boys in world football and he's also joined by a very solid looking cast of support players.

Premier League players such as Marko Arnautovic and Kevin Wimmer give the Austrians plenty of options and whilst top scorer in qualifying Marc Janko may not be to everyones tastes he is very effective.

Expectations:

Getting out of the group is a must and i think with a bit of luck a run at the Quarter Finals isn't out of the question.

Iceland

Qualifying record:

6 wins, 2 draws, 2 losses.

Top scorer:

Gylfi Sigurðsson (6)

Projected top performer:

Gylfi Sigurðsson -  The Swansea star could be set for a big competition after leading the country in scoring during qualification.

Iceland’s best player by some distance, the attacking midfielder can provide a goal in an instant with either a long-range strike or a perfectly placed pass.

Ably assisted by veteran striker Eidur Gudjohnsen the pair provide a challenge for any team to deal with.

A strong qualification campaign has seen the minnows become a hipster choice and with players like Sigurðsson it's easy to see why.

Expectations:

Just being here is a massive achievement in itself for the tiny country, qualification from the group would make for an excellent tournament and with the new 3rd place team rule i won't count that out at this stage.

Hungary

Qualifying record:

4 wins, 4 draws, 2 losses. (Qualified via Playoffs)

Top scorer:

Tamas Priskin (2)

Projected top performer:

Balazs Dzsudzsak - The Bursaspor winger is maybe the only genuine talented player in the squad's ranks with an impressive club goal-scoring record for a winger he has the weight of a country laying on his shoulders for the next few weeks.

With workman like strikers and a goal keeper who wears grey tracksuit bottoms for every game, Hungary do little to excite but with a good team work ethic and Dzsudzsaks ability to get a goal they could surprise one or two.

Expectations:

Finishing the group stage in 3rd place is about as high as their expectations should be based on what is going to be a tough few weeks for the Hungarians