Euro 2016 Group E: Ireland must overcome Italians to keep progression hopes alive
Lee Gormley | June 20, 2016
Republic of Ireland v Italy
- Euro 2016 Group E
- Wednesday, June 22nd
- Kick-off: 20:00 BST
- Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Villeneuve d’Ascq, Lille
- Live on ITV
Ireland must topple Italy to progress
Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland enter their final Euro 2016 Group E encounter with table-toppers Italy knowing only a victory will help their chances of progressing to the last 16 in France, following a 3-0 defeat to Belgium last time out.
The Boys in Green were held to a 1-1 draw with Sweden in their first outing but were dispatched by the Red Devils in the second, meaning only three points against the Azzurri could see them advance from the group stage in third position.
With four of the best third-placed nations from six pools set to progress, the Irish need a strong performance to gain success at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy, and O’Neill’s Emerald Isle are 11/5 with Coral to prevail with maximum points.
Although, Antonio Conte’s Italian outfit have won back-to-back games so far, making them 11/8 to emerge victorious again here and send Ireland home. A draw is 21/10 to occur in Villeneuve d’Ascq, but such a result wouldn’t be enough for the Irish to remain in the tournament.
O’Neill rallies his Irish side
Irish boss O’Neill will set up his side in order to gain three points from an Italian outfit that have so far been defensively sound, having not conceded a single goal in their opening two wins over Belgium and Sweden, though he ready to throw everything at the Azzurri.
“We must go and try to win – that can be our only thought,” stated O’Neill. “There was a thought about possibly being able to go through unbeaten with three draws. That is gone now, and we’ve a game to win. We’ll throw absolutely everything into it to try and win.”
“I don’t think it will be as difficult as it’s maybe looking from here. We’re capable of breaking Italy down and we might have to only take the one chance – that might be enough.”
A possible boost for Irish hopes comes after Italian coach and future Chelsea manager Conte confirmed he would be resting several of his key players, having already secured top spot in Group E.
Those are likely to be goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, defenders Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, midfielders Daniele de Rossi and Thiago Motta, and fellow Brazilian-born Eder Citadin Martins up front, with all six currently sitting one booking away from suspension.
Long and Hoolahan key to hopes
Southampton striker Shane Long endured a tough afternoon against Belgium, with the Premier League forward having been asked to lead the line on his own against a solid Belgian backline, though he was unfortunate not to win a penalty before their opponents netted their opening goal.
The Tipperary-born attacker is 6/1 to open proceedings for Ireland, while Robbie Keane, who came on as a late substitute last time out, is 7/1 to bag the game’s final goal.
Norwich City playmaker Wes Hoolahan netted Ireland’s first and only goal so far against Sweden and is 11/4 to add another anytime here, while clubmate Robbie Brady is the same price to dispatch, having been one of his nation’s star performers in France.
Jonathan Walters missed the Belgium defeat through injury but is 2/1 to strike on his possible return to action, with wideman James McClean and midfielder Jeff Hendrick both 5/1 to get on the scoresheet.
Italian threats to Ireland progression
Long’s clubmate Graziano Pelle could be a threat to Ireland’s progression to the last 16, with the Azzurri attacker 8/1 to bag a brace or more here, while Eder is 6/4 to find the target if involved after firing in a late winner against Sweden.
Fellow forwards Simone Zaza and Ciro Immobile are both 7/4 to find the net, with midfielders Antonio Candreva and Emanuele Giaccherini 4/1 and 6/1 to net anytime in this fixture.
In the current state of third-placed sides in each group, Northern Ireland are rivals for progression for the Republic, along with Slovakia, Albania and Portugal.
A win is essential and a draw simply not good enough as Albania have already finished with three points and fellow Group D hopefuls Czech Republic and Turkey play each other, meaning one will inevitably end up better off than Ireland, as their tournament rests on one solid showing against Italy.