The UEFA Euro 2016 soccer tournament is underway in France, and the Republic of Ireland is one of 24 nations vying to be crowned champions of Europe. It's only the 3rd time ever that the Irish have qualified for this prestigious competition, having previously failed to advanced out of group stage in their previous outings. Euro 2012 was a particularly brutal tournament for Ireland, who were grouped in with Croatia, eventual champions Spain, and runners-up Italy, and they lost all 3 matches by a combined score of 9-1.
This go-round, Ireland has Sweden, Italy again, and Belgium to contend with, and their quest to advance to the knockout phase began today against the Swedes at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis. In the build-up to the contest, Irish television network RTE had a video featuring UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor delivering a passionate speech to the team, which you can watch at the top of the page. The full transcription can be read below.
"What's up, Ireland? I want to give a shoutout to our national team competing at the European championships. You are the most experienced team out there. All players combined, we have the age and the experience on our side. You are the veterans of this entire competition. There is not a movement, an approach, an obstacle, that you have not seen or felt before. These young pups you're going up against were still in their [diapers] when you were knee-deep in the trenches fighting for every single ball, fighting for every single second of every single game.
It's time to show these young boys that this is man's work now. It's time to take these young boys back to school. The school of hard knocks. The school of Ireland. Shoutout to all our up-and-coming players hungry to etch their name into Irish history, representing our nation's colors with pride. Shoutout to everybody that has been around this nation's football team since the very beginning. This is your moment. This is our moment. This is where we introduce the footballing world to the new Ireland. An Ireland made tough through battle. An Ireland made strong to sacrifice. An Ireland that makes no apologies for its success and no excuses for its failures. An Ireland that strives forwards against all odds. An Ireland that stands up and fights. Always remember, we are not here to take part, we are here to take over. Good luck boys, the country is with you."
The good news for Ireland is that they held Sweden to 0 shots on goal and did all the scoring. Unfortunately, Ciaran Clark's quality header into the net was an own goal, which cancelled out Wes Hoolohan's terrific goal to the correct net, and ended the game at 1-1. Ireland play Belgium on Saturday, June 18th, before finishing up group play against Italy on Wednesday, June 22nd. Under the new expanded format from 16 to 24 teams, the top 16 will qualify for the 2nd round (top 2 teams in the six groups, plus the top 4 third-placed sides).
McGregor will rematch Nate Diaz at UFC 202 on August 20th at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. That fight, as was the case for their first one in March, will be contested at welterweight.