Group E plays their first two games tonight. That’ll be enough time for me to write this post, then I’ve got Group F’s and I can finally relax. Also, enjoy your day off, readers from areas within the British Commonwealth.
GROUP E FIXTURE
- Tue Jun 14, 2am: Republic of Ireland v Sweden, Saint-Denis
- Tue Jun 14, 5am: Belgium v Italy, Lyon
- Fri Jun 17, 11pm: Italy v Sweden, Toulouse
- Sat Jun 18, 11pm: Belgium v Republic of Ireland, Bordeaux
- Thu Jun 23, 5am: Italy v Republic of Ireland, Lille
- Thu Jun 23, 5am: Sweden v Belgium, Lens
- How they qualified: 1st in Group B
- Euro 2012: Did not qualify
- Best Euro performance: Runners up (1980)
- Manager: Marc Wilmots
- Captain: Eden Hazard
- Key player: Romelo Lukaku. Yes, Eden Hazard may be one of the most dangerous (or hazardous, ba dum tss) players in the world, but he can’t do it all on his own up forward, and Lukaku is the sort of player who would be #1 at most other countries. 50 Premier League goals before his 23rd birthday, and two goals in an international match, aged 17, prove his explosive scoring ability.
- Pass mark: Until last month the world number 1s (skeptical about that, might need to make my own system…), Belgium will find anything less than the quarter finals a failure.
- How they qualified: 1st in Group H
- Euro 2012: Runners up
- Best Euro performance: Champions (1968)
- Manager: Antonio Conte
- Captain: Gianluigi Buffon
- Key player: Daniele De Rossi. The ageless midfielder helped the Italians win the 2006 World Cup, as well as power to bronze at the 2004 Olympics and finish runners up in the 2012 Euros. Excellent both defending and attacking, the fact he is the most red carded player in Italian history might cause trouble.
- Pass mark: There is no doubt that Italy will want to win, in particular to avenge for Euro 2012. They should make at least the semi-finals.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
- How they qualified: Two-leg playoff (3-1 over Bosnia-Herzegovina)
- Euro 2012: Group stage
- Best Euro performance: Group stage (1988, 2012)
- Manager: Martin O’Neill (Northern Ireland)
- Captain: Robbie Keane
- Key player: John O’Shea. The 6’3″ Sunderland defender has been playing for Ireland since 2001, and is a highly valuable general down back. In 2014, he won the Player of the Year by the FAI. Captained the side once in 2012.
- Pass mark: Get a point, considering the group they’re in.
- How they qualified: Two-leg playoff (4-3 over Denmark)
- Euro 2012: Group stage
- Best Euro performance: Semi-finals (1992)
- Manager: Erik Hamrén
- Captain: Zlatan Ibrahimović
- Key player: Zlatan Ibrahimović. Can any man be more crucial to Sweden’s hopes than him? Has there been any greater Swedish athlete than him? (Maybe Björn Borg.) Zlatan is a nine-time Guldbollen winner, the all time leading Paris Saint-Germain goalscorer, and the sort of player who can do this:
- Pass mark: Quarter-finals.