Monday 24 July 2017

Walters still a worry for O'Neill as Ireland gear up for group decider against Italy

Martin O'Neill manager of Republic of Ireland during a press conference at the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Martin O'Neill manager of Republic of Ireland during a press conference at the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

John Brennan

At least we got no new injuries out of it.

The FAI confirmed this afternoon that Jon Walters' ongoing struggle with an Achilles problem is the only worry in the camp as the Boys in Green lick their wounds after yesterday's second half mauling by Belgium in Bordeaux.

Trying to stick to the positive after seeing his side done for pace and technique by Belgium, the Irish manager Martin O'Neill insisted he always felt his team would have to win a game to get out of a seriously tough Group E. And that's where he finds himself with just one shot left at getting that precious victory in Euro 2016.

“I always said from the outset that we would have to win a game in the competition to give ourselves a proper chance of going through to the next round of the tournament, and that is still the case,” said O’Neill in a statement to FAI TV.

“Obviously there was disappointment immediately after the game because we were upbeat going into the match following the performance against Sweden.

“The first goal (for Belgium) was a really vital goal, possibly because we could have had a penalty, and then they went and scored from the breakaway. But they were a very fine side, and I’m not taking anything away from that.

“But now we have a really great game against Italy to look forward to, to put our immediate disappointment to the side, and if we can win this game we give ourselves an incredible chance of qualification.”

If not, Ireland will look back with horror on that 20 minutes in the wake of Wes Hoolahan's cracker against Sweden last Monday. Then when our team should have calmly played out ten minutes to assess the situation, we instead immediately fell back on our goal-line and invited the Swedes to come onto us.

Something they did until they got their equaliser. If Ireland had carried on playing the way they played for the first half of that match, our life in Lille would be so much easier on Wednesday.

The FAI statement also notes there is no venue yet for the pre-match training spin in Lille that normally takes place in the stadium.

Lille's new pitch has been heavily criticised in the two games it has seen to date and will host France-Switzerland tonight. The suggestion is that Ireland and Italy may not get access to the playing surface until just an hour before the game itself.

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