Fun-lovin' Irish hoping to stick around

Ireland's Robbie Keane (centre) plays the ball during practice at the PGE Arena Stadium in Gdansk,...

Ireland's Robbie Keane (centre) plays the ball during practice at the PGE Arena Stadium in Gdansk, Poland, June 13, 2012. (JUAN MEDINA/Reuters)

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:15 PM ET

WARSAW - Please, oh please, let Irish eyes be smiling after Thursday.

There is a rule about being neutral when it comes to writing but you'd have to have an iron heart not to wish the Irish well.

Thursday in Poznan, Ireland will be fighting for its life against Spain in the Euro 2012 tournament.

Ireland suffered a bad 3-1 defeat to Croatia in its opening Group B match. Spain tied Italy 1-1. Some sort of positive result is needed to give the Irish any chance of beating the odds and moving onto the second round of the tournament.

Ireland didn't look good in its first game. It was outplayed and appeared somewhat overwhelmed being on an international stage.

But the Irish are resilient people and their national team reflects that trait.

The message Giovanni Trapattoni wanted to get through to his team is simple: Croatia is in the past and nothing will alter the result but there is a lot that can be done against Spain.

It's a message that has been understood by the players.

"We can't change what happened (against Croatia)," said Ireland 'keeper Shay Given. "We can change what happens against Spain. We've got to look forward because Croatia has gone."

The Irish came into the tournament with one of the best records in the world. They did it by playing inspired, organized defence.

In Game 1 that defence disappeared.

There are a lot of people cheering for the Irish. It makes little difference what country a tournament is played in, but if the Irish are part of it, they are one of the most popular teams involved.

The Irish love their soccer but they also love their image as fun-loving people who have the strength to battle through adversity on the pitch and in life. They are wonderful travelling fans who enjoy meeting people from other countries. There is no aura of superiority because so many have struggled simply to make ends meet.

More importantly, the Irish fans have gone out of their way to separate themselves from English fans or, more to the point, English hooligans.

It is a source of pride to the Irish that they are welcomed wherever they go.

After the first game in Poznan, many of the Irish couldn't get hotel rooms and were forced to sleep on the floor of the train station. There were no reports of trouble, no broken windows, fights or drunken brawls

Fun and likeability aside, this is still about soccer.

Ireland and its fans want to win, crave a win, at a major tournament. It is a source of frustration that advancing deep into a tournament is still something missing from Ireland's soccer history.

Some of the problems that have prevented Irish advancement are really beyond what the team can do.

Ireland does not have a large population. There are fewer people living in Ireland than there are in the Greater Toronto Area.

Ireland has developed great soccer stars in the past but developing them on a consistent basis is difficult because of the population, especially when soccer isn't the No. 1 sport. Traditional sports like Gaelic football and hurling still attract many of the country's top athletes.

No, not many are giving Ireland a chance against Spain.

That plays just fine with the Irish.

Backs to the wall, people in their corner, the battling Boys in Green have the Spanish right where they want them. It's simply part of the Irish culture.

"We hope this situation will bring the best out of us ... sometimes in the past when everyone has given up on us, we've come out fighting and proved we're a decent team. We have to do that again," Given said.

Let's hope we hear the chant, 'You'll never beat the Irish,' a little longer in this tournament.


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