When I was younger, the World Cup was bigger to me than the Euros. Argentina ’78, Spain ’82 and Mexico ‘86 were the three most memorable summers of my youth. But as I grew up, the Euros took over in my estimation because of the quality of the field - no Zaire or New Zealand or North Korea to ruin the group games. There are no whipping boys at the Euros, and no teams to provide comic relief for the armchair neutral to feel bad for (although England are doing their best to take on the latter mantra).
My first memory of the Nations Cup, as it was once called, is watching the 1976 final with my granddad Lawless. He was an avowed Gaelic Football fan and it is still strange to me that he allowed me to watch the game in his house. I practiced in vain as I tried to replicate Panenka’s outrageous penalty that won the final for Czechoslovakia against Germany. The grainy black and white images are now on YouTube, while the goal is the stuff of legend. Helder Postiga replicated the feat for Portugal against England at Euro ‘04. Spurs legend!
There are dates and events in history when people remember where they were and what they were doing at that exact moment in time. In recent years the death of Osama Bin Laden, 9/11, Princess Diana, and the Challenger disaster are some of the seminal moments of our time. For Irish fans it was June 12, 1988 at 2:36 PM EST, 7:36 PM in Dublin and 8:36 PM in Stuttgart. I was in Hennessy Headquarters in the Bronx watching a satellite feed with my cousin John Baitson as Ireland played England at Euro ’88. Kevin Moran took a free kick. Tony Galvin hooked the ball into the penalty area. John Aldridge headed it on and Ray Houghton headed it back across the English goal and looped it into the empty net. Tony Adams and Kenny Sansom stood with their hands aloft looking for offside as Arsenal players of that generation were want to do. Irish fans everywhere went mental. The goal miraculously stood up as the prayers of Roman Catholic Ireland, as it was still at the time, were answered. Ireland beat England 1-0 and 800 years of subservience to our imperial masters was eviscerated, and a nation celebrated. We may beat England at another Euro or World Cup, but it will never mean as much as did on that summers day 24 years ago.
The current Ireland team lacks the quality of Jack Charlton’s revered squad. Our best player is a has-been EPL player who now plays in MLS. The squad would struggle to avoid relegation if it played together in the EPL. However, in Giovanni Trapattoni, Ireland has an astute manager who can help his team get the big result, or cause a huge upset. Ireland are very similar to the Greece team of 2004. They won't win the Euros, but they have the power to grind out results and a win or draw with Italy or Spain is not beyond the team.
I would like to see a repeat of the 2010 World Cup Final with Holland facing Spain, but this time playing with the legacy of Rinus Michels’ Euro ’88 Dutch winners behind them. If not, Spain or Holland, then Germany or France, winning with Teutonic or Gallic flair would be good for the game. My outsiders for glory are one of Denmark or Russia with the draw having been kind to the latter.
I wanted Man United to win the EPL, Bayern Munich to win the Champions League, Barcelona to win La Liga, Hibs to win the Scottish Cup, Liverpool to win the FA cup, but all five lost. With that in mind I want England to be crowned European Champions in Kiev on July 1. Come on the Three Lions.