As Ireland prepare for their qualification campaign for the 2024 European Championships, head coach Stephen Kenny and his side can take plenty of inspiration from the World Cup in Qatar.
The Irish face the daunting prospect of taking on both France and the Netherlands in their qualifying group but they can take heart from what other underdogs achieved at this year’s World Cup.
A World Cup For The Underdogs
As Ireland get ready to go again in another qualifying campaign for a major tournament, Kenny would do well to highlight the upsets other nations caused in Qatar. Ireland, as of December 16th, are 20/1 in the betting on football to finish top of their European qualifying group and will be up against it playing the French and Dutch. However, a major tournament like the World Cup in Qatar certainly offers inspiration for the Irish going forward.
It didn’t get much bigger than in Argentina’s opening game, as they looked set to cruise to victory over Saudi Arabia in their Group C opener. Lionel Messi got the Argentines off to a flying start with an early penalty, before having a few goals chalked off for off side before half-time. The game suddenly turned on its head as Saleh Al Shehri found the back of the net just after the break before Salem Al Dawsari scored what proved to be a stunning winner. It was the sign of the things to come at the 2022 World Cup, with other massive shocks down the road.
Japan beating former world champions Germany was another standout result that the Irish can look to. The Germans needed to make a bright start, in a group that also included Spain and Costa Rica. Again, it was the favourites who scored the opening goal, with İlkay Gündoğan getting Germany off to a positive start. However, goals from Ritsu Dōan and Takuma Asano helped Japan pull off a stunning win. The wins for both Saudi Arabia and Japan showed favourites can be vulnerable after taking early leads. With France and the Netherlands to come in Euro 2024 qualifying, Irish boss Kenny should take note of how the Saudis and Japanese caused some European heavyweights problems.
France and Netherlands Have Their Weaknesses
While Kenny and his squad with rising stars will be up against it in their hopes of reaching the next European Championships in Germany, the French and Netherlands are certainly not unstoppable. France made hard work of getting through to the knockout stages at the 2022 World Cup as they just edged ahead of Australia into top spot in Group D. Going behind against the Australians in their opening game, Les Bleus did manage to come back to win that encounter comfortably 4-1. It took a late goal from Kylian Mbappé to win their next game against Denmark, before then suffering a shock 1-0 defeat to Tunisia. Looking closely at those group games, there are certainly areas Ireland can try and exploit when they face the French in Dublin at the Aviva Stadium and in Paris.
As for the Netherlands, they too showed shortcomings in Qatar that will give the Irish hope in their qualifying campaign for Euro 2024. In a group in which the Dutch were expected to breeze through against Ecuador, Senegal and Qatar, they made slightly more work of it. Scoring two late goals got the Netherlands over the line in their opener against Senegal, before a 1-1 stalemate with Ecuador in Al Rayyan. Ultimately a win over woeful Qatar got the Dutch through as group winners but the road would eventually end with a penalty-shootout defeat to Argentina in the quarter-finals. With Louis van Gaal stepping down as national coach and Ronald Koeman taking on the role, it might take the Netherlands time to adapt. That too could play to Ireland’s advantage in the upcoming qualifying campaign as they look to cause more upsets.
On paper, Ireland will have a tough time qualifying for Euro 2024. Thankfully for Kenny and his squad football is not played on paper and the Irish will be looking to add to the list of giant killings from the World Cup when they face the French and Dutch in 2023.