This Sunday, the time will finally come. After years of waiting, a minnow on the big stage gets a chance to show what it can do, to inspire a people, to achieve greatness. But as Carlow get ready to face Meath in the Leinster football quarter final, they must be aware that the attention of many lies elsewhere.
Euro 2012 will be a feast of football but also a junk food binge of ill-informed punditry. Shiny trousered ex-pros, like cats sunning themselves on a sloping grass bank, will exchange laddish banter as they admit to no knowledge of some of the countries involved.
They could do worse than look at my whistle-stop tour of all the groups and teams at this year’s championships. Forearmed with even these snippets of knowledge, the laziest pundit will be able to sound knowledgable.
Group A contains Poland, Greece, Russia and the Czech Republic. It is the furthest east of all the groups and therefore the most mysterious. Group A will also be the most moustachioed and contain more spies than any other group.
Russia are the favourites to win the opening matches with striker Andriy Kalashnikov being the main threat. Despite his height – Kalashnikov is reputed to be over eight feet tall, though has never been measured – he is surprisingly skilful on the ground. The other weapon in his arsenal is his tendency to fly into ferocious drunken rages, leaving opposition defences cowering as he swings his riding crop brutally.
Poland are the hosts and should also progress from the group stages. The big unknown for them however is how they will perform in the sweltering summer heat of Poland. They may also be hampered by a certain confused identity as everyone in Ireland will be thinking that all the teams in the group are Poland.
The Czech Republic are not the world powerhouses they once were. Many of the famous team of 2008 have left to write dark existential novels and those cartoons that used to be on television when there was nothing else on. Their talisman is their goalkeeper Vaclev Panenka, a man in a cloak with no face.
Finally Greece, the most temperamental, hot-tempered, indebted and clichéd team at these championships. A fiery mix of philosophic midfielders sitting around in sheets and explosive attackers on both the right and left wings.
Group B with the Netherlands, Denmark, German and Portugal has been nicknamed The Nearly Most Sensible Apart From Portugal Group. The eagerly awaited Germany versus Portugal match will be interesting to see whether Germany is forced to supply the Portuguese with the half-time Lucozade.
Germany’s chief asset – being patronising – will be useless against the equally patronising Dutch and Danes. The games between the three are likely to descend into farce as players on all sides try to figure out if the other team is being snide about their spending. Such is the level of fiscal rectitude within the camps that it is believed they are playing in the same shirts they used at a previous Championship, as they only got a few wears out of them.
For the Netherlands, the factor which is most likely to endanger success is the risk of a split. It is believed that in the 1990s, representatives of the IRA travelled to Holland to provide training in how to produce schisms within Dutch football squads. This was particularly evident during the 1998 World Cup where responsibility for a brilliant 2-1 victory of Argentina was claimed by the Continuity Dutch team.
Group C – Croatia, Spain, Italy and Ireland – Of course this is the one we are all interested in.
The main question is how will the threat of the Spanish mid-field be countered? The news from the Spanish camp is getting more worrying with reports that players are now practising actual sorcery in addition to working on dead-ball situations. Italy’s chaotic preparations continued this week with a further raid on the camp by police looking for information on the assassination of JFK. Hopes will be high that Ireland will get a good result against Croatia, because it is the furthest away and therefore more likely to be the kind of foreigners that don’t like it up ’em.
Which brings us to Ireland – a team that has exceeded expectations. Trapattoni has done a fantastic job in guiding us this far. One of the main tricks he has pulled off has been to convince the opposition to underestimate his players. He has achieved this with such simple devices as always making sure Damien Duff is wearing a shirt that doesn’t fit him properly or generally getting the Irish to look a little uncomfortable on the ball while still getting results. Ireland will be cheered on by thousands of fans including many of the Polish locals. Once the Poles spend a day getting their own back on the Irish for years of Polish-Builder-I-do-your-roof-for-half-price and Beautiful-Girls-working-in-Spar jokes, the relationship will settle down to mutual respect.
The final group to analyse is Group D – Ukraine, France, England and Sweden. On paper this is the easiest group England could have found themselves in, however there are a number of banana skins in store. Not least is the fact that the English can never actually win an international tournament again. This is because Rupert Murdoch has made a pact with Satan where he will surrender his soul to the Lord of Evil as long in return for continued English failure and therefore the opportunity for his newspapers to superimpose managers’ heads onto vegetables.
The French seem to be rebuilt following all the cheating-cheating-cheating-cheating-cheating-cheating-cheating-cheating and internal strife at the last World Cup. The leading French sports newspaper warned however against general French insouciance and je ne sais quoi.
Sweden’s downfall may be its country’s laudably egalitarian and caring society but there are fears this policy has been applied excessively in the case of the national side. A number of players are currently on pre-paternity leave. By contrast the goalkeeper is a 48 year-old pregnant woman.
Ukraine, as joint hosts, are everyone’s dark horse for the tournament, which by definition makes them not a dark horse at all. The experience of fighting in two World Wars should serve them well here as they are expected to draw teams onto them, then sit back and wait for the cruel fangs of winter to bite so that opposition midfielders are forced to slaughter their huskies for food.That of course is dependent on how much injury time is played.
Your education is complete. Let the games begin.