JAMES McClean believes Republic of Ireland have nothing to fear as they ready themselves for Monday’s crunch Euro 2016 ‘Group of Death’ opener against Sweden. (Kick-off 5 p.m.)
The Derry man is expecting nerves to play a big part in the opening game against the Swedes in front of an expected 80,000 spectators at the Stade de France in Paris.
And while he expects games against Sweden, and European heavyweights, Belgium and Italy to be ‘very tough’, he insists there is no fear factor in the Ireland camp.
In fact, McClean is excited about testing himself against the likes of Belgium’s Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku; Italy’s Graziano Pelle and Daniele de Rossi and of course Sweden’s talisman, Zlatan Ibrahimovic in his second major tournament for Ireland.
And having taken four of a possible six points from World champions, Germany in the qualifying stages, McClean believes Ireland can prove the surprise packages in Group E.
Commenting from Ireland’s base in Versailles last night, McClean said he’s ‘itching’ for the tournament to get underway.
There’s no fear factor in this camp I can assure you of that. At the same time we’re under no illusions that it’s going to be very tough.James McClean
“The closer the game gets the more real it becomes,” said the former Derry City winger. “It’s getting a lot more exciting since we landed here and I’m itching to get our tournament started. We’re raring to go!”
Ireland are putting the finishing touches to their preparations for the Sweden game at the Trianon Palace in Versailles and have been training at Stade de Montbauron and McClean reckons they’ve left no stone unturned.
“It’s a very good set-up here, we have everything we need,” he explained. “We’ve been treated really well and no stone has been left unturned in terms of our preparations. Our training sessions have been good and we need to replicate that on the pitch now and get some good results.”
The West Brom winger has earned a reputation for refusing to dodge a challenge and he claims Martin O’Neill’s 23 man team possess a great ‘fighting spirit’ which can see them reach the knockout stages. He believes Ireland are more than capable of taking a couple of major scalps along the way.
“There’s no fear factor in this camp I can assure you of that,” he said. “At the same time we’re under no illusions that it’s going to be very tough.
“But it’s going to be very tough for the teams we’re playing as well. We’ll not be easy to beat. We have a good fighting spirit and mentality in this group of players and we’re here to put on a show and we’re here to get wins.”
There’s much riding on the Group E opener against Sweden on Monday evening with games against the group’s heavy hitters to come, and McClean is hoping to get the tournament off to a flying start.
And he refusing to read too much into the way Sweden easily brushed aside Wales (3-0) in their final warm-up match.
“I wouldn’t take too much from the friendly games coming into the tournament. Once it gets underway it’s a totally different game, especially in front of nearly 80,000 people on the opening game of the group. So there’s going to be nerves on both sides and hopefully we deal with it a lot better than they do.
“We want to get off to a flying start as it a win would set us up very well,” he concluded.