In hindsight, the Republic of Ireland were right up against it in their first-ever major tournament in 1988.
They were drawn in a group with England, Holland and Russia and we now know that Holland, inspired by Gullit, Van Basten and Rijkaard (not forgetting the Koeman brothers and Arnold Muhren), went on to win the trophy with Van Basten’s impossible volley from the right angle in the final seen as one of the best goals of all-time. Who did they beat in the final? Russia!
However, the Republic negotiated the challenge of England, drew with Russia and then had a winner-takes-all game against Holland to see who progressed to the semi-finals. Holland won it 1-0.
Spurs and ROI legend Chris Hughton, now manager of Brighton, played all three games in West Germany - this was just before the Berlin Wall came down - and remembers it fondly.
The Republic have a tough-looking group this time around as well against Italy, Belgium and Sweden, but you could describe Chris as ‘quietly confident’.
And he should know…
What is your enduring memory of Euro 88?
Chris: “It’s interesting, because I should say beating England in the first game, but my biggest personal memory was marking Ruud Gullit when we played Holland. He played on the right, I played left-back. From a team point of view though, it has to be beating England in our first game in a major tournament finals. We beat England and strangely enough, I don’t know how we did but we then played Russia and we were excellent, but ended up drawing 1-1. Holland were the better team in the final game, we defended well, they scored a really fluke goal, which was also offside. That game was winner-takes-all and they went through - and went on to win it! In fact, we had the winners and runners-up in our group as they beat Russia in the final!”
Below: An early cap for Chris with the Republic of Ireland squad in 1981
What do you think of the Republic of Ireland’s chances in Euro 2016?
Chris: “It’s a tough, tough group - Italy, Belgium and Sweden - but because of the Irish team spirit, and a group of players who have been together for a long time, they have a chance. The big thing they will have in their favour is they will fear no-one and in Martin O’Neill, they have a manager who will organise the team well. They will be difficult to beat, the games will be tight and all four teams have a chance.”
We have 11 players at Euro 2016 including five in the England squad. What does that say about the club at the moment?
Chris: “I think it’s testament to a few things. First, the season the team has just had where they had so many outstanding performances. Then, England are looking at younger players under Roy, they have looked at Spurs and that has benefitted the Spurs lads. Also, it’s a reflection of the recruitment of the club and the work Mauricio Pochettino does in developing these younger players.”
Who else do we need to look out for in Euro 2016?
Chris: “You tend not to look too far from the tried and trusted - Germany, France, Spain and even Italy, perhaps on paper they are not as strong as in previous tournaments but Italy enter with a history of winning and you carry that with you into every tournament. In terms of players, Antoine Griezmann (France), who has done so well for Atletico Madrid and the Belgian pair Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne, two exciting players. England as well. Everyone is waiting to see what England can produce because in the likes of Alli, Kane, Vardy, Sterling, they are all well capable. I would say that the way we talk about Griezmann, Hazard, De Bruyne and Paul Pogba, the rest of Europe talk about the likes of Alli and Kane. Not forgetting Gareth Bale as well!”
Finally, who do you think will win the tournament?
Chris: “In terms of winning it, it’s difficult. I look at France and Germany. The only thing with France is can they handle the pressure of playing at home? I’m going to say ‘yes’ and go for France.”
Chris Hughton joined us as a schoolboy in 1977 and went on to make 398 appearances for us, winning the FA Cup in 1981 and 1982 and UEFA Cup in 1984. After a spell away, he returned to our coaching staff in 1993 and stayed until 2007. He earned 53 caps for the Republic of Ireland and was in the Euro 88 and World Cup 1990 squads. He has managed Newcastle, Norwich and is now boss at Brighton.