Whelan: We can pull off shock
STUTTGART in '88, Genoa in '90, New Jersey in '94. Great days and great times, and Glenn Whelan believes that Ireland's current batch of players can get a result against Spain in Gdansk tonight it would equal any of those achievements.
But only if the end result is Ireland coming out of the group and into the quarter-finals, instead of an early ticket home from Euro 2012.
Players like Whelan, Stephen Ward, Sean St Ledger and Keith Andrews were all handed their passports to international football by Giovanni Trapattoni and this evening those four, along with World Cup 2002 veterans Shay Given, Robbie Keane and Damien Duff, face up to one of the biggest games of their careers, their lives.
“If we were to beat Spain tonight it would be up there with all of the great achievements that Ireland have had in the past. But it would only be important if we get out of the group,” Whelan told the Evening Herald.
“When Ireland had those great wins before it led to something as they usually came out of their group at the finals, they certainly did in USA '94 when they beat Italy and they deserved to get through in '88.
“So we're not interested in moral victories or just doing well, we are a very determined group and we want to get into the next stage of the Euros, not be one of the teams going home next week,” added Whelan.
For a player who left Manchester City as a teenager and then learned his trade with the unfashionable Sheffield Wednesday and Stoke City, playing the current world and European champions is the stuff of dreams. You think and hope days like this could come along but for Whelan and the rest, it's finally here.
“It's a bit like fantasy football for me. If you look through the Spain squad, any one of them could get into any other team in the world, you can't just pick out one star name as the have stars throughout the squad,” he admits.
“But it's a game we want to play in, you want to play against the best to see how good you are. If it is a case of myself and Keith Andrews being picked to play in the middle, I don't think we can just focus on marking only one man, we'll have three or four players to look after,” he laughs.
“It's massive because of who we are playing and the quality of players that they have. It's just great to be involved in something like this, it's something that you dream about.
“You see kids back home out in the street playing football with the Real Madrid and Barcelona jerseys with the players' names on the back, like Xavi and Iniesta, and here we are, playing against them tonight. It would be great if we can give a good account of ourselves in the game and give the fans something to cheer about.” Good cheer was thin on the ground in the hours after Sunday's 3-1 loss to Croatia but Whelan says the gloom has lifted.
“The mood is fine. Losing to Croatia was hard to take, it wasn't so much the performance but the manner of the goals we conceded, we have been so tight at the back over the last few years, we don't give many goals away, so to give away three in one game like that was hard to accept,” he says.
“We all knew how big that game was to begin with, for us as a team but also for the country, it was a massive task to try and get out of this group and we needed something from the first game. We have an uphill battle against Spain and Italy now, but Ireland have always been the underdogs, we do things the hard way, so hopefully we can get through.
“But it's a new day and a new game, we have spoken as a group about what happened against Croatia. We saw the fans starting to arrive into Sopot, where we are based, and they will give us a lift.
“But if you can't lift yourself as a player for a game in the European Championship finals against Spain, then you shouldn't be here.”
For a final word, can Ireland do it and pull off one of the biggest results in our footballing history?
Whelan says: “No team is invincible, so Spain can be beaten, but it's up to us to improve on Sunday, match them in the game and if we can get a win it will be a great achievement.”