So this day last year Robbie Brady scored his famous goal to beat Italy. For three reasons I do not believe that this was such a magnificent Irish footballing result.
Firstly, I personally would have been a lot more impressed with that Irish goal/performance/result if it had come against an Italian team that had anything to play for. The Italians more than any other nation have it in their DNA to do the bare minimum that they need to do in any game.
Days before the game against the Republic of Ireland, the Azzurri knew that they had already won the group, had a tough knock-out game against Spain coming up some four days later, with management clearly conscious of that, fielding a vastly inferior XI to their strongest starting XI.
Secondly, if you finish third out of four teams in your group (as Ireland did, with only a poor Sweden finishing below us), you don’t deserve to progress to the next round in my opinion.
Thirdly, the format of last year’s tournament was stacked in favour of the Republic of Ireland. Of the six groups of four nations, the four best third placed nations made it through to the knockout stages. Ireland were the last team to play their last group game (with the other group game Belgium v Sweden kicking off at the same time) meaning that to finish third in the group (Ireland’s best hope going into the game), Ireland needed to beat Italy by any score.
Other nations in the running for one of the best third placed team positions weren’t so fortunate and didn’t know exactly what they had to do in their last game. It meant that some of them very likely went chasing late goals when they mightn’t needed to have, thus leaving themselves vulnerable at the back, with other possible scenarios also.
But then again maybe I’m just sore because I wasn’t in France last year but was in Poland/Ukraine for the duration of UEFA Euro 2012 and there was very, very little to celebrate from an Irish perspective back then (though still great craic was had)!