Jason McAteer: Shane Long is Ireland’s man to watch

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The 2016 European Championships are almost here and for the second time in succession, the Republic of Ireland will be making an appearance.

Expect the Emerald Isle to bring their famous party atmosphere to France, as they look to cause an upset or two this summer.

We caught up with former Ireland international Jason McAteer to get his views on how the Boys in Green will fare over the coming weeks.

The former Liverpool and Blackburn player spoke exclusively to Ladbrokes News at our #ForTheFans event this week, revealing how he thinks Shane Long can be Ireland’s danger man, and who his dark horse for the tournament is.

With 52 caps in those green shirts, the veteran of two World Cups is well-placed to give his views on Ireland’s chances.

2012 versus 2016

Some said Ireland were stifled under Giovanni Trapattoni four years ago and there were reports of boredom between games but that won’t happen this time.

The dynamics have obviously changed since then which is good. Looking back at the way teams used to prepare for tournaments and comparing it to today’s world brings two things into consideration. Firstly, the football culture and landscape has changed a lot in the last decade or so.

Coupled with that, Social Media is a massive presence and the players need protecting. It’s slightly different from when I played in 2002 and certainly back in 1994, when we were allowed out and we were allowed to go and enjoy ourselves.

But on the flip side of that I do think there’s a time and a place for the lads to enjoy themselves and I do think there’s a time and a place to let the lads out.

The big teams like Germany, Italy and England, they will be followed around by the media. It’s a bit looser with Ireland, it’s a bit easier to get around, and I think this time around Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane know the importance of having a unity and team spirit, and getting the team bond together and I know the lads have bonded really, really well.

They’ve had the opportunities to enjoy themselves at times and I don’t think it will change in the tournament. I think there’ll be a time and a place for the lads to go out and have some food and have down time and I think Martin and Roy will know exactly what to do.

Group difficulties

It’s never easy with us.

We always get the Group of Death, whether it’s qualification or the finals. In 1994 we were in New York and Florida where it felt like the temperature was 300 degrees!

So it’s a ‘standard’ Group of Death for the Irish.

It’s going to be tough. I think if it was the old format of the Euros I’d say we’d be out.

I don’t think we could cope with the quality in the group. I think now the format’s changed there’s an opportunity to get through in third place.

LADBROKES. Pre Euro 2016 event, Far Rockaway Bar, Shoreditch, London. Ally McCoist, Ian Rush, Jason McAteer, Emile Heskey and Iain Dowie.

Sweden

I think there’s two ways of looking at it. The first way is that we play Sweden in the first game and that’s a positive.

That’s the realistic opportunity to get three points. I would then like to think that confidence, if we get the win, would then get us a point against Italy and I think that would be enough to get us out of the group.

The negative side is, tournament football, there’s a build-up to it, a good two, two-and-a-half weeks build-up.

It’s kind of like the media hype builds with it, and there’s an explosion in the first game. There’s a lot of hype that goes around the first game, there’s a lot of media attention, the lads are all raring to go.

The big players usually turn up in the first game, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a big, big player.

I think he’s going to fancy the first game, I really really do.

They’ll be targeting Ireland as the three points for them so it’s going to be a cagey game. It could go either way.  I just hope that the luck of the Irish is with us on the night, that Ibrahimovic has a quiet night and we can nick a win.

That’s where I see the three points coming from.

Key Man

Shane Long.

He didn’t start a lot of the games in the qualifiers, he played the part coming off the bench by being explosive. He got the goal against Germany and got the equaliser against Poland.

But he’s put himself in a position with his club form for Southampton to be the starter.  And if he starts all three games he’ll be the man who is in form and who could cause a few problems.

Interestingly enough he caused the two Tottenham centre-halves, who play for Belgium (Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld) real problems when he played for Southampton, and because of Kompany being injured I think they’ll be the two centre-halves in France.

Long will be the man to watch.

Dark Horse

Dark Horse? I’m going to go for Poland.

I was impressed with them when they played in the last Euros, and obviously Robert Lewandowski has had a great season, he’s a fantastic centre-forward.

Didi Hamann rates him as one of the greatest centre-forwards in the world and I have to agree with him. On his day he’s can be unplayable, he can score all kinds of goals.

I think this side is improving, there hasn’t been that many changes over the last four years. They’ve qualified here and they could be the dark horses in France.

Banker

England to make the semis. Belgium will win the tournament though, after knocking England out on penalties in the last four.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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