Paris (AFP) – Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill has urged his team to have no fear as they prepare to start their Euro 2016 campaign against Sweden at the Stade de France on Monday.
The Irish find themselves in a tough section also containing Italy and Belgium so their opening fixture against Zlatan Ibrahimovic and co could prove decisive.
“It’s great to be here, great to be part of it,” said O’Neill, whose side qualified by beating Bosnia and Herzegovina in a play-off, at a press conference on Sunday.
“We qualified in the play-offs back in November time and we’ve been waiting impatiently for this, but those celebrations have long gone.
“We want to start fresh again and just make a mark.
“The games are difficult for us but we’re looking forward to them immensely — not to be fearful, just do our utmost in the match and you never know.”
Ireland’s Euro 2012 campaign in Poland and Ukraine four years ago saw them exit with a whimper as they lost all three group games, against eventual winners Spain, Italy and Croatia.
Veteran striker Robbie Keane, who captained the side then, is again in the squad in France and is optimistic about Ireland’s prospects of making it through to the last 16 this time.
“We had a great spirit four years ago but played against three of the best sides at that time and we didn’t win a game,” Keane said.
“Are we ready now? Of course we are. The lads are excited and looking forward to the games coming around.
“It’s been a great few weeks training. It’s gone as well as it can and everybody is ready to go.”
Ireland have had a nagging doubt about the fitness of Jon Walters, who has been struggling with achilles problems. However, O’Neill hopes to have the Stoke City forward available to play on Monday evening.
“He doesn’t have any reaction at the moment. He’s feeling fine and I hope he’s available for us,” said the manager.