On the first day of my visit to Euro 2016 I attended my first ever live match at a major international tournament – heading to the Stade de France to watch Republic of Ireland face Sweden in their Group E opener.
The first European Championship I remember was back in 2004, when Greece stunned the world to lift the trophy – beating the hosts Portugal twice in doing so!
Ever since, my love affair with major international football tournaments has grown and few things can compare to the excitement of either a Euros or World Cup every other summer.
As I am sure is the case with many football fans, to attend one of these events has always been a dream of mine and Euro 2016 in France provided the perfect opportunity for me to do so for the very first time.
It had been just under a year in the making, from applying in the original ballot for tickets to a trio of games in Paris to catching the flight from Manchester Airport to the French capital on Monday June 13th.
Having watched all seven games over the weekend on TV, it was a rather surreal feeling to suddenly be outside France’s national stadium with thousands of colourful and noisy Irish and Swedish supporters just a few hours after leaving my home.
Many of the news reports from the opening weekend of the tournament had given the impression of an almost war zone atmosphere in France, with numerous fights between supporters – most notably the English and Russian fans in Marseille before and after their 1-1 draw on Saturday evening.
However, none of this was visible at this game with nothing but a friendly atmosphere as the two sets of fans drank, sang and laughed together before their two sides began their Euro campaign at 6pm.
The atmosphere inside the hugely impressive 80,000+ capacity stadium, built for the 1998 World Cup, was equally as marvellous with the two fans providing all the colour and joy you could ever imagine at an occasion like this.
Accompanying Ireland and Sweden in Group E was four-time World Champions Italy, and currently Europe’s number one ranked nation Belgium, meaning this game took on added importance as it potentially offered both nations their best chance to pick up three points that could well see them through to the knockout phase under the new 24-team format.
Following the game’s ‘opening ceremony’, which saw the nations’ kits and flags laid out on the pitch as schoolchildren performed for the crowd, the two teams made their way onto the field and bellowed out the national anthems with passion and pride.
It was Ireland who got off to the strongest start – Jeff Hendrick forcing the game’s first save with a driven strike from inside the area.
Derby County midfielder Hendrick then came even closer later on in the half as he rattled the crossbar from range, but at the break the game remained goalless.
Just two minutes after the restart, however, Ireland were ahead. Some great work down the right from Seamus Coleman saw him eventually pick out Wes Hoolahan, who hammered a first-time strike past the Swedish goalkeeper to give the ‘boys in green’ a deserved lead.
Sweden had been largely anonymous until this point, but having gone behind they quickly responded with a spell of pressure as they searched for an equaliser.
The Swedes’ star man Zlatan Ibrahimovic almost snatched a goal from nothing as the flicked the ball just wide of the target from close range.
Then, with nineteen minutes to go, Ibrahimovic created an equaliser that broke Irish hearts. The former PSG man fired a dangerous cross towards the six-yard box that defender Ciaran Clark directed into his own net as he attempted to avert the danger.
It was a disappointing end for Martin O’Neill’s men, but the Irish supporters remained upbeat and their side can certainly have taken many positives from their performance.
On a personal level, it was an amazing day that only added to my excitement for the rest of the week and attending two more games at Euro 2016!
Republic of Ireland (1)
Line-up: Darren Randolph, Seamus Coleman, John O’Shea, Ciaran Clark, Robbie Brady, James McCarthy (Aiden McGeady ’85), Glenn Whelan, Jeff Hendrick, Wes Hoolahan (Robbie Keane ’78), Jon Walters (James McClean ’64), Shane Long
Unused Subs: Keiren Westwood, Richard Keogh, Shane Duffy, Cyrus Christie, Shay Given, Stephen Ward, David Meyler, Daryl Murphy, Stephen Quinn
Scorers: Wes Hoolahan ’47
Line-up: Andreas Isaksson, Mikael Lustig (Erik Johansson ’46), Victor Lindelof, Andreas Granqvist, Martin Olsson, Sebastian Larsson, Oscar Lewicki (Albin Ekdal ’86), Kim Kallstrom, Emil Forsberg, Marcus Berg (John Guidetti ’59), Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Unused Subs: Robin Olsen, Pontus Jansson, Oscar Hiljemark, Pontus Wernbloom, Ludwig Augustinsson, Emir Kujovic, Jimmy Durmaz, Erkan Zengin, Patrik Carlgren
Scorers: Ciaran Clark (og) ’71
Date: 13th June 2016
Competition: Euro 2016 – Group E
Referee: Milorad Mazic
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