Just after Ireland secured Euro 2016 qualification, cult German magazine 11freunde wrote how the world needed the Irish fans to bring happiness to the tournament. With 275,000 ticket applications made to follow the Boys in Green, France should be prepared for an unprecedented outpouring of green-clad joy.
According to statistics released by UEFA, Ireland, who face Sweden, Belgium, and Italy in the group stages, were in the top five for most ticket applications. The opening clash with Zlatan and co. at the Stade de France was among the top three most subscribed games. With just 26,000 tickets allocated, many look set to miss out but the Green Army is most definitely coming.
Over 30,000 Irish fans were said to have made the trip to Poland in Euro 2012, our first major tournament in a decade, and they made a lasting impression on the locals and watching global audience.
The rendition of the ‘Fields of Athenry’ during the final game with Spain polarised opinion in Ireland with current assistant manager Roy Keane bemoaning the apparent ‘only there for a sing-song attitude’ of the supporters, an opinion condemned by those who made the trip.
Elsewhere, however, the sight and sound of the Republic support were among the abiding memories of the tournament. On German television, commentators stopped talking to allow viewers to hear the Irish fans. Footballers including Fabrice Muamba, Robin Van Persie, Michael Owen, Paul McGrath, Yossie Benayou, and even the Mayor of Gdansk took to Twitter to express their admiration.
“Listening to them (the fans) singing during the last five minutes of the game… I will remember it for as long as I live” – Gerard Pique
The countdown is now on to Euro 2016 and odds makers currently have Germany at the head of the pack to win the tournament.
Ireland, who famously defeated Joachim Loew’s side in qualifying, have the daunting task of facing Belgium, ranked number one in the world, and many people’s favourites to win their first major title.
Runners-up four years ago, Italy will provide Martin O’Neill’s side’s final group opposition. The Green Army, who along with the Austrians, Swiss and hosts France, look set to provide the biggest fan bases at the finals judging by UEFA’s ticket stats, will be hoping there is more to play for by the time we face the Azzurri in Lille than four years ago when er endured three games and three defeats.
With up to three teams qualifying this time around, a favourable result in the opener against Sweden could give Irish fans plenty to sing about, and set-off another ticket scramble for the knock-out rounds.
Main image: Billy Galligan/amanwithhiscamera.com
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