EURO 2016

Aldo: Ireland's Euro 2016 hopes may rest with star name

EURO 2016By John Aldridge
Aldo backing Shane Long to shine at Euro 2016
Aldo backing Shane Long to shine at Euro 2016

Shane Long has the talent to set Euro 2016 alight for the Republic of Ireland this summer - but we need to make sure he gets the service he needs to make his mark in France this summer.

I've always been a big fan of Long, with his pace and finishing moving up a couple of levels under the guidance of Ronald Koeman at Southampton over the last couple of years.

Republic of Ireland boss Martin O’Neill suggested Shane could be the Jamie Vardy of the Euro 2016 finals and there is some logic behind that, with the rags to riches story of Leicester’s title winning striker comparable to Ireland’s lead marksman in many ways.

Long (below) has worked his way through the ranks for club and country to reach a point where is he is respected on the international stage, so it would be great to see him turn on the style against Europe’s elite when it matters most.

Of course, it might not just be down to Shane if he is to emerge as Ireland’s Euro 2016 hero, as I know from personal experience that he will not have it easy playing up front for Ireland.

The reality is, Ireland have never been a national team that has gone out and beaten teams by three or four goals.

During my time playing for Ireland under Jack Charlton, we ground out wins against some of the best sides in the world but we were never a team that would pass them off the park with brilliance.

All too often, I got little or no service during games and had to work tirelessly up front in a lone role, but I would have run through a brick wall for Ireland so it was no problem to me.

The Ireland team of 2016 doesn't have the same class of player we could call on in my days with Ireland and that means the lead striker in the team is likely to have a lot of frustrating days running his arse off at the head of this team.

Shane deserves to start Ireland's first game against Sweden at Stade de France and if we can get him the kind of service he thrives on, then I would back him to get us the goals we will need to get off to a flier in the horrible group we have been drawn in.

The danger for Ireland must be that they fail to get that lift off in the opening game and the whole party in France falls a little flat for us.

I know the fella loves himself a little bit too much, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic (below) is a fantastic striker and despite the criticism that comes his way, he is capable of taking the best of defences apart when he is on top of his game.

Now Ireland don’t have the best defence in world football by a long stretch, so we may have a problem keeping big Zlatan quiet in that opening game.

Then in the next match we have Belgium and their host of attacking superstars before we get to the final match against Italy and they have plenty of menace in them as well.

Let’s be honest, Ireland have been handed a shocking group stage draw and we need a lot of fortune to run our way if we are to get through to the knock-outs stages, but there is a good vibe about this Ireland team right now and that should give us all some hope.

That qualifying win against Germany is still fresh in all our minds and it was a night that reminded us that anything is possible in this game.

Leicester winning the Premier League should be another source of inspiration for Ireland heading into Euro 2016 and we have players that can turn a game in our favour if they are all performing in unison.

James McCarthy, Seamus Coleman, Robbie Brady and James McClean all have a bit of magic in them, with Robbie Keane still a presence in the squad coming off the bench.

I would love to see Robbie grab one more famous goal to add to his record breaking haul of international goals at Euro 2016, but the chances are we will need his former apprentice Shane Long to step up and fire us into the latter stages of the competition.

The task could not be bigger against Sweden, Belgium and Italy, but the excitement of seeing Ireland back in a major championships is about to grip us all once again.

It would be great to think we could have another summer like the one you all experienced when the team I was in did the naion proud at Euro 88 and in the 1990 and 1994 World Cup finals.

I missed the party back in Ireland on those occasions as I was playing for Ireland, but I will be over for a few of the games this summer and there is no better place to be when our nation gets behind a team.

Come on you boys in Green!