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It's All Set - Here's Ireland's Path To Glory At Euro 2016

It's All Set - Here's Ireland's Path To Glory At Euro 2016
By John Balfe
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Now that Ireland are are in the knockout stages of the Euros for the first time in our history, thanks to our first tournament victory in 14 years, it's time to start dreaming big.

Maybe we're still intoxicated by the scenes in Lille last night but we're starting to believe that anything is possible at this stage and, now that we're but four games away from winning the thing, here's Ireland's path to glory examined in full.

Round of 16 - France

Let's face it, we owe them one. Irish football still hasn't really recovered from the effects of Thierry Henry's lámh in Paris in 2009 but now, some seven years later, there would be no better revenge than to knock France out of their own tournament and then have a massive party on their streets.

Despite topping their group, and to borrow a phrase from Eamon Dunphy, France are no great shakes so far this tournament. Romania gave them a real go in the tournament's opening match, while they had to wait until the injury time at the end of the game to secure three points against Albania. Switzerland then held them to a scoreless draw in their final outing in Group A which proved to us, if nothing else, that while France should be respected but not feared.

Hopefully Ireland will be able to cash in the karma card that the fans have built up over the last couple of weeks on Sunday.

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Quarter Finals - Iceland or England

There's a great story here whoever it turns out we would end up playing in the quarter finals. If we face Iceland, it would be a clash of (according to the French media at least) the two soundest sets of fans in tournament and if we were paired up against England, well, we'd have to find another way to describe it.

An Iceland vs Ireland quarter final is unlikely but, in this era of Leicester City, who really knows what could possibly happen if these two unfenced nations were to square off for a place in the semi-finals of a major international tournament.

England, on the other hand, are past victims of ours at Euros (even if that was 28 years ago, to be fair) but clashes between these two footballing nations are always interesting affairs because their respective footballing philosophies are so similar and the two sets of players so familiar with each other.

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And, sure, if Wales can top their group ahead of England, that should give us some hope.

Semi Final - Germany, Italy, Spain or Slovakia

Discounting Slovakia here for a moment, we have history with all of these other teams.

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Germany are still smarting from the four points we took from them in the qualifying stages and, though it ultimately didn't really slow their march to the top of the group, the fact that Ireland embarrassed them twice in recent months is enough to give them some added motivation should our nations face once again at this highest of stages. We presume that they're still suffering from cold sweats at the very thought of Shane Long, too.

Spain, on the other hand, would without question be confident in facing Ireland for the second Euros in succession. The 4-0 gutting in Gdansk at Euro 2012 was a low-point in Irish football history and will still be fresh in the minds of several members of Ireland's current squad and they would be itching to erase that memory and restore some pride.

As for Italy, see last night.

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Final - One Of Eight Teams But Probably Belgium (or Croatia)

It would be a very tough ask for Ireland to make it this far but, if they did indeed get to the dizzying heights of a final in Saint-Denis, chances are it will be a rematch with the Belgians.

Ireland's Group E rivals put a pretty solid beating on them in the group stages, with the Irish defence seemingly incapable of marshalling an attack which features Premiership stars like Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard. The new partnership of Richard Keogh and Shane Duffy had a bit more bite to it against Italy than the Clark/O'Shea tandem managed against Marc Wilmots' men last weekend so, in theory at least, Ireland would be more hopeful of managing to curb the attacking flair of the world's second ranked team.

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All of this is very fanciful thinking but motivation is a very powerful thing in sport and each potential match for Ireland should they progress through the tournament has a nice subplot tidily built into it.

It's a lot to ask of this Irish squad, we realise, but we got a taste of success last night and you can be positive that Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane will be looking for more.

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