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10 teams who’ve lost first game and STILL qualified

by Aidan Elder | June 14, 2012
Ireland fan

IRISH CHEERLEADING – Basic, but effective

Take your head out of the oven.
No need to flick through the family tree to find a foreign relation that would justify supporting a team who might actually win the whole thing.
Don’t abandon yee all hope just yet.

It will take a miracle. But miracles do happen. In a world where Djimi Traore has a Champions League winners’ medal, you can win a Premier League title in despite being 2-1 down two minutes into added time and Grant Holt is pressing for inclusion in the England squad, anything is possible.

There’s no doubt that Ireland face a massive task if they’re to stay in Euro 2012 beyond the group stages. Defeat at the hands of Croatia wasn’t a disaster, but the schooling they received in the process wasn’t far off. It’s going to take possibly the most amazing couple of results in Irish sporting history to progress. It’s a long shot, but until Thursday evening, no calculator in the world can tell us were out.

Looking back through the history books provides some comfort. But only if you’re willing to take random scraps of comfort and pretend they’re analogous to your situation. Which we are. Since the group stages of the European Championships came into existence in 1980, 10 teams have lost their opening game and still qualified for the knock-out stages. Scoff you may, but deluded optimism is much easier to sustain when you have historical examples to cling to.

Another vague crumb of comfort is that it seems to be a more modern thing too. In the days since football became more professional and players stopped claiming vodka was nutritional, the occurrences of comebacks from bad starts has increased. Seven of those 10 comebacks happened in three European Championships of the Noughties. That’s possibly down to the gap between the top teams and the not so top teams having narrowing the last couple of decades. The minnows may not always pull off a shock, but they certainly put it up ’em and according to the cliché, they’re not big fans of that.

It’s possible and it has happened before.The problem is, although a like Lazarus-like recovery is possible, never before has it involved beating the two most recent World champions. Portugal recovering from opening day defeat to Greece by beating Russia and Spain in Euro 2004 is arguably the toughest path to recovery thus far. And they were at home. And they had Luis Figo. The Czech Republic’s turnaround in 1996 was none too shabby either, but again, they had decidedly more flair at their disposal.

In the absence of home support and a Just For Men ambassador of Figo’s calibre, Ireland face a much tougher task. Spain could only manage a draw in their opener against Italy, but the silky skills were in evidence. It was more a case of blowing off the competitive cobwebs than the crumbling of an empire. Worryingly, Italy also looked pretty good, which is a concern because they were supposed to be in chaos and a bit crap.

Logic and reason tell us theres little chance of a quarter-final. Patriotism and optimism tell us there’s always a chance. Even during their reign at the top of the world, Spain have suffered sucker-punches. Ireland can get a result against them. Yes, they look slick, consistent and generally unplayable, but – as Luis Figo in his Just For Men adverts has taught us – appearances on the surface can be deceiving.


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