Match Report: Allez les Verts! Ireland in dreamland as Robbie Brady strikes late to down Italy
Ireland 1 Italy 0
Ireland are through to the last 16 of Euro 2016 after a historic night in Lille.
That a jubilant Roy Keane was virtually in tears was not the only distinctive and unique thing about this magic night in Lille.
This Irish team have once again done something truly distinctive, something truly different in the country’s football history.
Just like with the 1-0 win against Germany, they have won when they needed to, in a situation that seemed close to impossible.
Impossible was nothing, because Ireland gave everything.
This was a night of redemption that also reflected the spirit that has taken this team so far.
Martin O’Neill got all of his big decisions right, the team kept going despite so much going against them in this match, and - to epitomise it all - Wes Hoolahan responded to what seemed a crushing moment with the delivery that lifted everything.
The substitute playmaker had squandered what seemed an easy chance in the 83rd minute and looked despondent. If it affected him, it was only in a very positive way. He immediately whipped in one of the crosses of the tournament, allowing Robbie Brady to head home, so Ireland aren’t going home.
It was a cross in fact reminiscent of one of Brady’s superb efforts, and that made him such a fitting scorer. He was the one causing Italy’s defence the most trouble throughout the game with his deliveries.
It was the excellent Jeff Hendrick that was causing Italy’s whole team the most problems in general.
He set the tone by trying that brilliantly struck long shot on 10 minutes, and set the pace in midfield with his runs and assertive passing. That is an amazing thing to say when you consider that one of the opposition midfielders was a former Champions League winner like Thiago Motta, rather than one who has been playing in the Championship with Derby County.
Even if all of this must be put in the context of a much-changed Italian side that had never played together, neither had Ireland’s.
O’Neill does deserve huge credit for the bravery of his line-up, as it led to one of the bravest displays of his era.
It was even more creditable that they didn’t initially miss the playmaker, nor the first-choice central defensive partnership and most used midfielder. All of Richard Keogh, Daryl Murphy, James McClean and - especially - Shane Duffy did fine jobs. There was just more verve about the entire team.
While there was no cohesion in the Italian team with their changes, there was plenty in Ireland’s.
Everything just worked out, as O’Neill promised.
That is summed up by the introduction of Hoolahan. It just ended up being a masterstroke.
This was a magical night, quite possibly one of the greatest.
IRELAND: Randolph, Coleman, Keogh, Duffy, Ward; McClean, Hendrick, McCarthy, Brady, Long, Murphy.
ITALY: Sirigu, De Sciglio, Ogbonna, Zaza, Florenzi, Motta, Immobile, Sturaro, Barzagli, Bonucci (c), Bernardeschi.
Much, much more to follow
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