Anything less than a win is likely to spell the end of Ireland’s Euro 2016 campaign
The Republic of Ireland head into their final group match with Italy knowing that anything less than a win is likely to spell the end of their Euro 2016 campaign.
Martin O’Neill’s men travel to Lille lying bottom of Group D following their 3- 0 defeat to Belgium at the weekend.
It leaves them relying on Sweden overcoming the Belgians, in addition to them beating Italy for the first time since 1994, if they are to secure an automatic qualifying spot. Even in this scenario, the Boys in Green would have to record a heavy victory and hope that Sweden only scrape a win.
And some cause for concern will be that they have only ever won one tournament match by more than one goal – a 3-0 win over Saudi Arabia at the 2002 World Cup.
We’ve had big moments against Italy in the past…
A victory by any means, however, might be enough as it could see them reach the knockout stages as one of the four best third placed teams.
A draw, or even a defeat against Italy, could still see them finish third in the group but it is unlikely to be enough to progress.
The current crop of Irish players are looking to become the first Republic squad to make it out of the group at a European Championships.
O’Neill says his team will “throw absolutely everything” at the Azzurri as they chase history.
“We must go and try to win – that can be our only thought,” he said. “There was a thought about being able to go through unbeaten with three draws. That is gone now, and we’ve a game to win.
“We’ll throw absolutely into it to try and win.”
Italy boss Antonio Conte is likely to alter his starting line-up, given that his side have already won the group and that there are a number of the squad who are one booking away from a suspension. He explained he will “pick a side to win the match, but also to rest players”.
Both O’Neill and assistant manager Roy Keane believe the team can take heart from previous performances, including the victory over Germany in qualifying, and the 1-1 draw with Sweden earlier in the tournament.
“I don’t think it will be as difficult as it’s maybe looking from here,” O’Neill said. “We’re capable of breaking Italy down and we might only have to take the one chance – that might be enough.”
Former Ireland captain Keane added: “It’s been done before. It’s not an impossible mission we’re on.
“You know, we have beaten Germany in the last two years. Players have to remember these days. “My advice would be to take them out. We saw Italy do it against Belgium where a player got a yellow card when they were breaking on the halfway line.
“He then kicked the ball out. You have to be streetwise in this game. We are not here to make friends – the fans are doing that. If you can hold the ball up then fantastic. If you smell danger then you do whatever you can to get the right result.”
He rued the mistakes made in his team’s match against Belgium, in which they conceded three goals.
“When you’re chasing the ball, the concentration levels can be down and that’s when you make mistakes so it’s important to keep hold of the ball.
“That’s what frustrated the manager with all the mistakes. We gave the ball away far too cheaply. You have to take care of the ball. There’s no problem giving it away 30 yards from goal, but when you’re sloppy in the middle of the park that puts you under massive pressure, and when you’re playing a big team you are in big trouble.”