And so the adventure begins. 17 days after assembling in Dublin, the Republic of Ireland squad arrive on French soil today. For 13 players, it will be their first major tournament.#

Damien Duff won his 100th and final cap in the Euro 2012 defeat to Italy. A third successive loss marked the end of a hugely disappointing tournament from an Irish perspective.

Four years on, the recently retired Duff is excited by a new challenge as an RTÉ analyst.

“A lot more difficult than playing football” is how he described life as a pundit so far.

Speaking to the former Chelsea man last week, he seemed increasingly comfortable in front of the cameras.

His take on Euro 2016 over the coming weeks will be fascinating.



Duff recently took in a Northern Ireland session at their Carton House training camp and was impressed by what he saw.

The loss of Chris Brunt for the finals is significant but in Steven Davis, regarded by Michael O'Neill as one of the most underrated players in the Premier League, Northern Ireland have a player capable of making a major impact in France.

The ideal scenario for French ambassador to Ireland Jean-Pierre Thebault is a France-Republic of Ireland final on 10 July.

He was the most welcoming of hosts at the announcement of RTÉ's Euro 2016 coverage last week in Dublin.

Whilst fully aware of the security issues surrounding the tournament, Thebault's positivity was infectious.

Bordeaux, the most Irish city in France according to Thebault, will stage the game against Belgium on 18 June and he promised it would be a city the Irish will revel in.

How much is enough?

Just eight teams contested the 1984 European Championship, won by the Michel Platini-inspired host nation France.

The pulsating semi-final win over Portugal was the tournament highlight. Over 30 years later, the expanded 24-team format troubles the purist. Was 16 not just right?

That said, the Republic of Ireland have benefited. Five third-placed nations from the European qualifiers are among the 24. Only eight teams exit the tournament after a 36-game group stage. It’s an identical format to the 1986, 1990 and 1994 World Cups. There is precedence for an alternative.

At the 1982 World Cup, my own personal favourite, 24 teams split into six groups of four.

Only the top two progressed to the second round. The 12 qualifiers split into four groups of three with the group winners making the semi-finals. Northern Ireland, captained by Martin O'Neill, were a win over France away from a World Cup semi-final.

O'Neill is the first Republic of Ireland manager since Jack Charlton to secure qualification in his first campaign and the major question is, can he mastermind progression to the knockout phase?

Conventional wisdom suggests the Group E opener against Sweden is the key game.

With an international goal average greater than one every two games, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the obvious danger. He has been a league champion nine times in the last 10 years and is accustomed to winning.

Sweden, like the Republic of Ireland, qualified through the play-offs.

They finished third in their group with an identical record to the Republic of Ireland of five wins, three draws and two defeats.

In my book, that makes the Stade de France game a meeting of two evenly-matched teams.