Italy v Ireland, Wednesday June 22
Lille, Live on ITV, 8pm
Group E concludes this evening as Sweden play Belgium in Nice and Italy take on the Republic of Ireland at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille (8pm, ITV) in the last of the Euro 2016 Group matches.
Italy – the story so far
Already confirmed as winners of Group E after just two games, Italy go into this match with the opportunity of being able to rest key players ahead of the knock-out stages. Already confirmed to play against Spain in the Round of 16, Antonio Conte will be playing the game tonight with one eye firmly on the challenge ahead.
Whilst Italy have been slightly underwhelming in an attacking sense, defensively they have looked rock solid with the seemingly ageless and peerless Giorgio Chiellini and Gianluigi Buffon superbly marshalling the defence. Whether these two play will have a great bearing on how likely Ireland are going to be able to break down an Italian backline which is still yet to concede a single goal.
Ireland – the story so far
Ireland will still be kicking themselves for not putting Sweden away in their opening group E game despite dominating the bulk of the match. In their second game when up against a resurgent Belgium side they were ruthlessly dispatched by Marc Wilmots’ side who seized on defensive lapses to to put a massive dent in Ireland’s chances of qualification.
The equation tonight it quite simple – only a win will do for Ireland. If Ireland do win, and Sweden fail to beat Belgium in the other match, Ireland should qualify in 3rd place, with 4 points as one of the four best 3rd placed teams. If Sweden beat Belgium, Ireland could still finish in 2nd place, although it would rely on a hugely favourable swing in Ireland’s favour in terms of goals scored. In all likelihood, the best Ireland can hope for is a win, followed by qualification in 3rd place and that is only achievable if they win the game tonight.
Martin O’Neill may be forced into making a few changes of his own tonight. Wes Hooligan and particularly Jon Walters may be carrying knocks that will result in them missing out – the evergreen Robbie Keane may get a chance to start up front. Defensively, Ciaran Clark and James McCarthy both came in for criticism following their performances in Belgium game and O’Neill may consider dropping them to the bench.
Ireland need a goal, and this one promises to be an entertaining battle between the spirit and enthusiasm of the Irish against the knowhow and cunning of the Italians. With nothing to play for in this game and an eye already on the game against Spain in the final 16 it wouldn’t be a massive surprise to see Italy underperform in this one. There should be a few players on both sides making their tournament debuts and this game could be one of the most open we’ve seen.
- Ireland to win by exactly 1 goal @
- Half time draw, Full time Ireland @
- Robbie Keane to score the winner @
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