Poznan: Inspired by Chelsea's surprise run to the Champions League title, Ireland will try to shake off its underdog moniker and cause an upset at the European Championship.
Chelsea overcame the odds in beating Barcelona and Bayern Munich on the way to victory in Europe's premier club competition. Ireland's tough group draw at Euro 2012, including reigning champion Spain and 2006 World Cup winner Italy, means the team is also an outside bet.
"I'm an experienced manager ... never say never," Ireland coach Trapattoni said Saturday, a day before his team's Group C opener against Croatia. "I think 90 percent of German people thought Bayern Munich would win against Chelsea — then Chelsea won."
The 73-year-old Italian was even confident enough to name his starting lineup to face Croatia in advance, confirming that the team that draw 0-0 with Hungary in the final warm-up match on Monday will repeat at the Municipal Stadium in Poznan.
Against three teams with greater technical ability, soaking up pressure and hitting opponents on the counterattack looks Ireland's best chance of making the knockout rounds.
"The ball is always the ball," added Trapattoni, in typically cryptic fashion. "Of course, the final result will depend on the players' creativity ... that's why we have to believe."
Trapattoni will deploy a 4-4-2 formation, with two tough-tackling midfielders protecting the back four and captain Robbie Keane playing a withdrawn striker's role to reduce space in the middle of the pitch.
Relying on defense is a tactic that has worked before for unfancied teams.
Chelsea's Champions League win this year revived memories of Inter Milan's victory in the same competition in 2010, underpinned by coach Jose Mourinho's disciplined defensive strategy. Both Chelsea and Inter Milan triumphed over the more attacking philosophy embodied by Barcelona in the semifinal before beating Bayern to win the trophy.
At international level, Greece won Euro 2004 with the same defend-in-numbers philosophy that Trapattoni's Ireland is expected to favor this time round.
"We got here because we are fully determined," said Trapattoni. "The first match is critical ... if you win the first match, you get motivation and enthusiasm."
The match between Ireland and Croatia will also feature an interesting contrast in coaches between Trapattoni and his counterpart, 43-year-old Croatia coach Slaven Bilic.
While Bilic is a fan of rock music and occasionally smokes on the bench, Trapattoni has been quoting an unidentified military general to explain the secret of his enduring success.
Although the Italian's English is occasionally fractured, the quote Trapattoni uses can be roughly translated as: "Old is the man who is no longer curious."
That's not a problem for the Ireland coach.
"I always want to get to know things that I didn't know before," Trapattoni said. "I'm like 20 years old, just with more experience."