Monday 22 January 2018

Antonio Conte set to make SEVEN changes for clash with Ireland

O’Neill to throw everything at Italy after Belgian battering

Ireland's Shane Long watches as Belgium celebrate their third goal during their Euro 2016 Group E match in Bordeaux. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ireland's Shane Long watches as Belgium celebrate their third goal during their Euro 2016 Group E match in Bordeaux. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Miguel Delaney

Antonio Conte is contemplating as many as seven changes to his unbeaten Italian team for Ireland's crunch match in Lille on Wednesday, giving added weight to Martin O'Neill's belief that the fixture "will not be as difficult as it looks right now".

Following yesterday's very disappointing 3-0 defeat to Belgium, the Irish manager said his team will throw "absolutely everything" at the match in order to try and claim the win they must get to qualify for the second round of Euro 2016, but it seems that Conte will not be doing the same. Five key Italian players are another booking away from a one-match ban - Gigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Eder, Daniele De Rossi and Leonardo Bonucci - and, while they are likely to be rested, those close to the camp feel the manager is set to go even further and put out a significantly changed side.

Sources say Conte has not made a final decision, but that he has been leaning that way over the last 24 hours.

O'Neill, meanwhile, invoked the spirit of the 1-0 win over Germany in October, a victory that came when all seemed lost in qualification too.

"We have to go and win it," O'Neill said. "There was talk beforehand if you drew all three games, you might qualify . . . it's a game to win. We have to throw absolutely everything into trying to win the game."

Ireland's defeat yesterday, after a second-half flurry from Belgium, made a mockery of pre-match hope O'Neill's side could claim a victory against a supposedly under-performing team. Marc Wilmots's side provided the perfect response to so much criticism of their recent performances, with Romelu Lukaku scoring on 48 and 70 minutes, and man of the match Axel Witsel scoring with a header, on 61 minutes.

Read more: 'We are capable of breaking Italy down and progressing' - Martin O'Neill

Ireland might have had a penalty in the moments before Lukaku's brilliant first when Thomas Vermaelen and Toby Alderweireld went in high on Shane Long in the Belgian box, but they were generally second best.

O'Neill was asked whether the crushing nature of the defeat would have any effect on confidence ahead of the match with Italy in Lille on Wednesday, but said the situation isn't as bad as it looks now.

"I think there's two ways of looking at it," O'Neill said. "You can feel very sorry for yourself and commiserate with your team-mates. That's gone.

"You have to take some self-confidence from the way you played three or four days ago [against Sweden], try and put it to one side. It's never easy for a manager to dismiss it but the most important thing is to reappraise as quickly as possible and go and win the game. I don't think that will be as difficult as it looks right now."

"We have gone into this game [against Belgium] feeling we could do something but it didn't materialise. Now we've just go to throw everything into the match to try and win, to try and prevent Italy from scoring a goal and try and win ourselves.

"We are very capable today of breaking Italy down and might only have to take the one chance and that might be enough."

Italy have already qualified after their 1-0 win over Sweden on Friday and, asked whether that could make life easier for Ireland, O'Neill dismissed the question.

"All I know is what we have to try and do ourselves. We have to go and win it."

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