Euro 2016: Frank McNally's A to Z guide

Albania to Zlatan, to a now slightly arthritic Joxer, here's everything you need to know

A is for Albania and Austria: two of an unprecedented 24 countries taking part in this year's tournament. When Ireland first qualified for the finals, there were only eight teams there.

B is for "Bloody hell – how did that happen?" the hyper-inflated Euros were the brainchild of Michel Platini, former French midfield general, now dodgy football administrator. He wanted to spread the joy.

C is for collapse and communism: Platini's generosity apart, the ever-expanding Euros are a symptom of the much-increased number of international football teams in Europe since Ireland's 1988 finals debut. Back then, for example, we played the Soviet Union, which is now 15 different countries. The mighty Soviets were humbled by a spectacular volleyed goal from Ronnie Whelan, and communism crumbled soon afterwards. Coincidence? You decide.

D is for devalued, something critics say the tournament now is: the bloated new format also means that most third-place teams in the group stages will qualify for the knock-out stage. On the other hand, Ireland are fourth favourites for the group. In which context, D also stands for "danger here": George Hamilton's catchphrase, which we expect him to use a lot during the Republic's games against Sweden, Belgium, and Italy.

E is for England: the continent's only (alleged) major footballing power has never won the tournament. E is also for entertainment: something England's latest doomed attempt is guaranteed to provide.

F is for fan zones: where, in the absence of match tickets, many travelling Irish supporters will watch the games. F is also for full-body search: expect one on the way in.

G is for Greece: who didn't qualify for this year's finals but remain a role model for underdogs, having won the tournament back in 2004. G is also for Germany, one of the main reasons underdogs tend to stay under.

H is for Holland: the aristocrats of European football somehow contrived not to reach the inflated 2016 finals. H is also for the resultant humiliation. That ghostly apparition in the background is the famous "Johann Cruyff turn" being performed in his grave.

I is for Ireland teams: a record two of which have qualified for Euro 2016. The Republic and the North might even meet in later stages of the competition – although, to be honest, that's about as likely as Leicester winning the Premiership.

J is for Joxer: who, as described by Christy Moore, went to Stuttgart in a van in 1988. "Joxer" is now 57, slightly arthritic, and not sure he's up to rigours of another such trip. But as the tournament gets nearer, he's tempted. If he does go, J will also be for "jump leads".

K is for Keogh, Davy: the Irish super fan has been saying hello at games for 30 years now. His flag will be a certain fixture at Euro 2016.

L is for Lille: where the Republic play their final group game, against Italy. L is also for "long", which is the kind of ball we may be reduced to using against the better teams, as well as the surname of the striker we hope gets on the end of it.

M is for mascot: the Euro 2016 mascot is a half-child, half superhero called "Super Victor". He looks a bit like Wes Hoolahan.

N is for Nordies: large numbers of them will be hitting the roads of France alongside Joxer & Co. N is also for Nessun Dorma, forever associated with Luciano Pavarotti and Italia '90, but currently undergoing a revival thanks to Andrea Bocelli's performance at Leicester's end-of-season title celebrations. Bocelli wore a standard-size football jersey for the performance, suggesting that Italian tenors have shrunk in inverse proportion to international football tournaments over the past three decades.

O is for O'Neill: the surname of both the managers who will lead the green-and-white armies to France. The last time the O'Neills looked this threatening was just before the Battle of Kinsale.

P is for Paris: where the tournament begins and ends. P is also for paranoia, of which there will be a lot – among security people, teams and fans – in the intervening month.

Q is for Quick Burger: the French fast-food chain is the antithesis of the country's epicurean tradition. However drunk you get, Irish fans, don't go there. Statisticians predict that the relentless rise of such restaurants will see the burger topple the baguette sandwich as France's favourite lunch sometime this year. You wouldn't want that on your conscience.

R is for Roy Keane: a calm presence in the Irish camp these days, in contrast with the last major tournament he accompanied it to, when he became a turbulent absence. R is also for "rule out": something you can never do with the Germans.

S is for Stuttgart: scene of Ireland's greatest Euro moment. S is also for the Scots, to whom Irish fans are eternally grateful. They got us to the 1988 tournament with an unlikely victory away in Bulgaria and, thanks to an equally unlikely collapse last year, they've done it again here.

T is for tiki-taka: the version of the beautiful game that won Spain the last two Euro tournaments. The technique is not quite what it was. But nobody will be surprised if the Spanish make it a hat-trick in France.

U is for ugly: a style of winning that fans of both Irelands would settle for, happily. In a similar spirit, U is also for "U can keep your tiki-taka".

V is for Versailles: where the Republic of Ireland have their training base. Yes, 14 years after their alleged mistreatment in Saipan, Irish players will now be headquartered in a town associated with aristocratic excess, all thanks to Roy 'Robespierre' Keane.

W is for Wes: as in Hoolahan, Ireland's midfield wizard, on whom our attempts to out-pass the opposition could rest. If it can inspire victory in the opening match over Sweden, his highly educated left foot may be in line for an honorary doctorate from the Sorbonne.

X is the symbol of conflict: or, as the great French writer Victor Hugo put it: "X signifies crossed swords, combat - who will be victor? Nobody knows – that is why philosophers used X to signify fate, and the mathematicians took it for the unknown". As Hugo didn't add, however, X is also the symbol for a draw in football. And far from pitching us into the unknown, three X's in the group stage would probably qualify us for the knock-outs.

Y is for Yugoslavia: runners-up in the inaugural European championships of 1960, and again in 1968, when the finals comprised only four teams. Now there are almost twice that many countries in the former Yugoslavia alone: although curiously, only one of them (Croatia) made it to Euro 2016.

Z is for Zlatan Ibrahimovic: a large Swedish striker with an even larger ego, by whose performance Ireland's opening match, and their tournament, may be defined. The one star in a team of journeyman, Zlatan will punish any mistakes. But if the big Z can be kept quiet (ideally enjoying some small Zzzs during the game), Ireland just might be able to sneak the result that will set us up for a successful tournament.

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