The Republic of Ireland kick off their first major tournament in a decade against Croatia on Sunday and their coach, Giovanni Trapattoni, has warned them they cannot afford a false start. "The first 90 minutes will have an impact on the tournament," said the Italian as he told UEFA.com how Ireland's mental strength, discipline and determination could help them overcome "technically superior" rivals in Group C.
UEFA.com: Giovanni, coming into this tournament what kind of shape are your Ireland team in?
Giovanni Trapattoni: From past experience, I knew I would find players in my team who just had a few days' rest and yet are in good physical shape. My only worry is that I have two or three with little injuries, who need to recover properly, but the general physical and psychological condition of my team is good.
UEFA.com: What sort of football do you expect from the Republic of Ireland at UEFA EURO 2012?
Trapattoni: We have our own style of football. We are not a Latin team, not a team who play technically superior [football].
We are a team with our own characteristics, which I like very much, very direct and precise. We don't have many creative players, but very straightforward players.
UEFA.com: Your team have shown that they have strong self-belief and determination. Is that enough against the quality of opposition that they will face?
Trapattoni: Yes, without a doubt. We have many examples, including from last season's Champions League – there were sides who people thought would win the cup, but it was won by a different team. So today's football can be [like that], and as everyone knows, a team can achieve any result when they're in a good way. But this is not a tournament of 30 league matches; here we only have a few important 90 minutes to play.
UEFA.com: Many people, pundits included, have pinpointed the first game against Croatia as a must-win match. What do you expect from it?
Trapattoni: It's not just the pundits, but we ourselves also know perfectly well that the first match is very important, as important as the other first match, Italy against Spain. So the first 90 minutes will have an impact on the tournament.
It's very important to win the first match, which would give us a certain advantage, but it would also be important not to lose. Then you'd need to judge it in light of the Italy-Spain result.
UEFA.com: How would you assess Croatia's form coming into the EURO?
Trapattoni: I have seen Croatia many times, and we have played them in a friendly as well, and I have to say, they have more creative players than we do. However, we are in the same physical and mental condition [as them], and with our tactics we have shown against Brazil and France how through our efforts, more creative players have failed to cause us problems.
UEFA.com: What result would you like from the Spain-Italy match?
Trapattoni: A draw would be the best for us, because if we win the first match it would give us a slight advantage. A draw in their game would make things easier for us.
UEFA.com: Looking at the group overall, do you think four points could be enough for Ireland to qualify?
Trapattoni: I think so, but the first results will be important. If it's two draws, then it might be possible to qualify with four points.
UEFA.com: The fact that Ireland defended so impressively in qualifying has led a lot of people to suggest that your tactics might be defensive. Is that going to be the case?
Trapattoni: No, we want to win, to play and to score goals. But our opponents are strong. I think of the final of the Champions League, [what] Chelsea did against Bayern. Bayern had a lot more possession, they deserved to win, but lost of course and Chelsea created the best opportunity. Seventeen corners for Bayern, one corner for Chelsea – that is football.
UEFA.com: Do you feel the Ireland team are stronger mentally than other sides in the tournament?
Trapattoni: That is one of our strong points, because we are strong in our attitude, our mentality, our confidence. Without a doubt we believe in ourselves. For us, this discipline, this attitude, is very important.
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