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Let's Win The Euros! - The Story So Far

Let's Win The Euros! - The Story So Far

As you may have seen through our Facebook page, we've set ourselves a challenge.

With live sport no longer an option and a European Championships on home soil pushed back until 2021, we all need something to keep ourselves ticking over.

So, we gave ourselves an objective; to win 'Euro 2020' with Ireland on Football Manager 2020.

Sometimes in this life, you have to set yourself lofty goals, and with self-isolation kicking-in, what better way to challenge yourself than to do the impossible.

We decided to fast forward immediately to the beginning of the tournament, no wasting time with play-offs or friendlies (although Ireland went into the tournament off the back of two victories over Benin and Aruba in Thomond Park).

Even the squad was delivered to us by the game:

  1. Darren Randolph
  2. Matt Doherty
  3. Enda Stevens
  4. John Egan
  5. Shane Duffy
  6. Jeff Hendrick
  7. Harry Arter
  8. James McCarthy
  9. Troy Parrott
  10. Shane Long
  11. Callum Robinson
  12. David McGoldrick
  13. Rob Elliot
  14. Mark Travers
  15. Ciaran Clark
  16. Darragh Lenihan
  17. Aaron Connolly
  18. Robbie Brady
  19. Michael Obafemi
  20. Dan Crowley
  21. Ryan Manning
  22. Kevin Long
  23. Lee O'Connor
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Captain Seamus Coleman was ruled out of the tournament due to knee tendonitis, with Shane Duffy taking over the captaincy.

The group we'd been given was, in truth, fairly easy by tournament standards. Bulgaria, Norway and Slovakia were our opponents, so topping the group was an achievable goal. First up was the might of Bulgaria. Last time out, Ireland defeated Bulgaria 3-1 in a friendly at the Aviva in 2019. Could the same be on the cards.

Game 1 - Bulgaria

Being thrown in to the action without warming up can have its merits. You don't have time to think, you only have enough time to react. That may be true in certain instances, but when it comes to tournament football, it couldn't be more wrong.

Mirroring calls in reality to employ a 5-at-the-back system that all of our defensive players are accustomed to, we plumped for an exciting 5-2-3 formation. A front three of Troy Parrott, Aaron Connolly, and David McGoldrick? Look out, Bulgaria!

let's win the euros!

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That... that... eh... yeah. That didn't go to plan.

 

Enda Stevens was torn apart on the left by Todor Nedelev, who was at the heart of all three Bulgaria goals.

Ireland's only opening in the game, despite having three strikers on the field, came through the head of Ciaran Clark, who did well to grab an equaliser. However, Ireland were outfought and outmatched by a dogged Bulgaria, and now had it all to do in the remaining matches.

Game 2 - Norway

The most pressing issue follows the harrowing defeat to Bulgaria was a change of tactic. The 5-2-3 experiment didn't work and it was time to go back to basics. Mike Bassett is calling from the distance, 4-4-2 is the answer to any question of football tactics.

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The change of tactic sees John Egan, David McGoldrick and Aaron Connolly dropped. Robbie Brady is thrown out to the left-wing, with Shane Long partnering Troy Parrott up top. James McCarthy also returns from the international wilderness to partner Dan Crowley in the centre, with Jeff Hendrick occupying a spot on the right.

The Norwegians probably have the best squad in the group, their attack led by golden-boy Erling Haaland and their strings pulled by Martin Odegaard. However, Ireland have a point to prove...

let's win the euros!

Sometimes, going back to basics is the necessary tonic. Ireland eked out the slimmest of 1-0 wins thanks to the heroics of Shane Long and Darren Randolph. Ireland were under the cosh immediately, being camped in their own half due to waves upon waves of Norwegian attacks. However, in the 38th minute came a moment of magic. Shane Long, industrious as ever, picked up the ball in the Norwegian half. The Tipp native spun two Norwegian defenders and danced past another before unleashing a 25-yard effort past Rune Jarstein in the Norway goal. 1-0 Ireland,  but a long way to go yet.

The second half was much of the same, Ireland forced to withstand Norwegian pressure, with Erling Haaland starting to make things happen. Then, disaster. Omar Elabdellaoui was allowed the freedom of the right flank, skipping past Ryan Manning before driving at Enda Stevens. The Sheffield United left-back stuck out a leg and the referee had no choice, penalty Norway.

Haaland placed the ball and faced Darren Randolph. The Dortmund striker is one of the most in-form strikers in the game, but was no match for the custodian from Bray. The West Ham keeper made a terrific save low to his right to hang onto the ball and keep Ireland's slender lead in-tact.

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Ireland then valiantly kept the Norwegian wolves at bay, changing to a 4-5-1 to see the game out. The match stats tell a tale, but the only stat that matters is that Ireland managed to take all three points from their second game.

let's win the euros!

Game 3 - Slovakia

Our play-off opponents were the final hurdle between Ireland and the knockout rounds. Slovakia had drawn their previous two matches in the group, but knew that a draw might not be enough to see them through to the Round of 16.

Ireland were without the services of Enda Stevens and Jeff Hendrick, with both men picking up two yellow cards in the opening two group games. Without those two talismanic figures, Ireland plumped for another change of tactic. The 4-5-1 which was employed for the conclusion of the Norway match was embraced, with goal-scorer Shane Long playing as a lone striker with Michael Obafemi playing on the right wing. Ryan Manning and Harry Arter replaced the suspended Enda Stevens and Jeff Hendrick respectively.

An electrical storm at the Aviva Stadium before the game meant that there was no live broadcast of the match itself, with the people at home missing one of the great Ireland performances.

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let's win the euros!

The match was over as a contest by the half-hour mark, as Shane Long again showcased why he should be given Player of the Tournament. His first was a brilliant counter-attacking charge, going past two defenders before sneaking the ball beyond Martin Dubravka's near-post. His second was a brilliant first-time finsih from a James McCarthy pass, staying on the shoulder of the defence until the time was right. His third was the epitome of a fox-in-the-box finish, the ball ricocheting around following a corner, falling to the feet of the former Cork City man who rifled it home.

Slovakia, bar a headed goal from Internazionale's Milan Skriniar, didn't threatens Darren Randolph's goal much, and departed the tournament with a whimper.

let's win the euros!

The final standings makes for pleasant reading, but the hard work only starts from here.

In the Round of 16, Ireland will be facing the reigning European champions, Portugal. Will Ireland have enough to fend of the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Joao Felix and Bernardo Silva. Tune-in to facebook.com/ballsdotie tomorrow to find out.

 

SEE ALSO: Football Manager 2020 Is Free For 7 Days And We've Set You A Challenge

Sean Meehan

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