Image from Goal.com
Jimmy Moorhouse reports on Ireland’s late winner to take them through to the knock-out stages:
Robbie Brady scored a late header to ensure an incredible victory for Ireland against already qualified Italy, and thus ensure their own place in the final 16. Italy made eight changes to the side that won 1-0 against Sweden in the previous match, having already secured 1st place in group E and a final 16 match against holders Spain, which allowed them to rest usual mainstays of the side such as the experienced Gianluigi Buffon and his Juventus teammate Giorgio Chellini. Ireland however, made four changes including the introduction of Ipswich striker Daryl Murphy, to play in a more attacking two-striker system, as they required all three points if they were to qualify for the final 16.
Image from the Telegraph
It was Ireland who came closest to opening the scoring in the early stages, when Murphy, who is yet to score for his country, met Robbie Brady’s corner with a powerful header, but it was well saved by Salvatore Sirigu in the Italy goal. Italy rarely threatened in the first half, with Ciro Immobile’s long-range strike their only real shot of note, and the Azzurri were perhaps lucky not to concede a penalty when James McClean was bundled over by a clumsy challenge by winger Federico Bernardeschi in the box. After the break Ireland’s dominance continued, although Zaza did come close for Italy when his dipping volley flew just over. Italy seemed to have their minds on the upcoming game against Spain, and a lack of concentration nearly led to the opening goal when Thiago Motta played a loose pass across the area, which allowed Seamus Coleman to nip in, but the right-back’s goal-bound shot was well blocked. Italy improved with the introduction of Napoli winger Lorenzo Insigne, and he almost made an immediate impact, when his curling shot from the edge of the area hit the post. Ireland had an incredible opportunity to take the lead late on when Leonardo Bonnuci tried to play his way out of defence and was seemingly tripped, but the referee played on, allowing substitute Wes Hoolahan to run through unopposed but he hit a tame shot straight at Sirigu. However, just a minute later, Hoolahan would make amends as he put in a delightful cross which was met powerfully by the head of Robbie Brady, flying past Sirigu and into the Italy net, giving Ireland the crucial lead they needed with less than 10 minutes to play. Ireland survived the final few minutes and held on for a priceless victory, their first at a European championship for 28 years, and ensured that all the home nations will have qualified for the final 16. It was well deserved for Ireland, they dominated a game against an Italy side which had so far proved one of the stronger teams at the tournament and they will hope to continue their euro adventure when they face up against the tournament hosts France in the final 16.
Jimmy Moorhouse, 18