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13th Sep 2016

UEFA’s Euro 2016 technical report stats are depressingly damning of Irish football

The stats don't lie

Conan Doherty

“Non-possession game. Goalkeeper launching attacks.”

“Strong, compact defensive block.”

“Aerial power. Work ethic. Never-say-die attitude.”

You think it’s just a lazy stereotype but then UEFA produce a 51-page technical report and they’re ready to back it up with facts.

There’s nothing wrong with being passionate and practical and scrappy. There’s nothing wrong with being direct either but you like to think that you’re progressing as a nation and that, bit by bit, your football will start to improve and you’ll mix it with the big boys – at their level, not by dragging them down to yours.

But, after four games at Euro 2016, there wasn’t much change in Martin O’Neill’s Ireland team to the rest of them – not according to UEFA’s technical report anyway.


For all this talk of work ethic and grit though, the stats don’t exactly back it up.

Of all 24 teams taking part in France, of all the teams who played with the ball and without it, Ireland covered the least amount of average distance.

Despite being bested in all four of their matches in terms of possession, despite chasing and “shutting down spaces” and displaying this supposed work ethic, the Republic covered an average distance of just over 103 miles (167km) per game.



Italy were covering almost 9.5 miles more than the Irish on average throughout the tournament.

And that’s even with Ireland’s lack of the ball:

Irish possession:

v Sweden – 47%
v Belgium – 46%
v Italy – 46%
v France – 40%

The game O’Neill’s side scaled the most distance in was against France in the second round, hitting a total of 104.7 miles as a team.


And it’s not like they were dominating and bossing contests when they did have possession. It was all very economical, back-to-front stuff.

Long passes 1

long passes 2

In his piece with the Irish Times this week, Ken Early made an insightful point about what makes the best players the best.

“Players who are brilliant in some dimension of the game have usually been shaped that way by their limitations,” he wrote.

“If Lionel Messi hadn’t been short, maybe he wouldn’t have become such a great dribbler; if Xavi hadn’t been slow, maybe he wouldn’t have become such a great passer and controller of games.”

It’s applied to teams as well. Knowing your limitations and using your strengths is what makes good teams good – Jesus, it’s the only way you can really score in football; attack their weakness or unleash your power.

How are we shaped by our limits though?

If Ireland aren’t that good, as a nation, at controlling and retaining the ball, what is the best dimension of their game that has been shaped by this?

Because it’s not their workrate, it’s not their running. They’re doing it less than anyone and, still, they pump the ball the length of the field when they have it.

The whole game seems to be territory-based and not even in a kick-and-chase type of way. It’s more of a ‘kick and let’s see what happens up there’ kind of thing.

Not even a quarter of their passes were short at Euro 2016.


Think for a second how often you see centre backs roll the ball to one another as they push the opposing team back. Those insignificant passes that do nothing really but buy time are still counted in the stats at the end of the day.

But if Jeff Hendrick and Seamus Coleman weren’t linking up, if Robbie Brady wasn’t involved, Ireland weren’t trying to to do anything.

The tournament was good for the country – don’t let anyone try to take that away. Everything’s relative and Ireland have won four games at a major tournament in their history. It was a relative success that could’ve been been better – you might say should’ve.

But when you look at the cold, hard stats, it’s hard to see any great masterplan for Irish football rather taking every game as it comes and hoping something will happen. The most disappointing thing is that we’re not even trying to change that pattern.

Actually, the most disappointing thing is that it is not a pattern at all.


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