Saturday 14 December 2019

Evoking the spirit of USA '94 and more talking points ahead of Ireland's pivotal clash with Italy

The Republic of Ireland face a win-at-all-costs clash with Italy in Lille on Wednesday night if they are to extend their stay at the European Championship.

Here, we take a look at some of the talking points surrounding a crucial fixture.


Ireland suspected when they arrived in France that their opening game against Sweden was likely to represent the best chance of the victory they would need to give themselves a platform to reach the last 16. Having drawn with the Swedes and then succumbed tamely to Belgium on Saturday, manager Martin O'Neill is likely to shuffle his pack in an attempt to secure a vital win with Richard Keogh, Stephen Quinn, James McClean and Daryl Murphy among those in contention for a place in the starting line-up.


The Republic were able to create little against the Belgians as Kevin de Bruyne and company dominated possession, and with Italy yet to concede a goal in the competition, that task will be no easier in Lille. O'Neill has placed great faith in Wes Hoolahan's invention in the first two games, but Murphy's physicality and the pace and direct approach of McClean would give his side a different aspect.


No Irish fan - even those who were not born at the time - needs reminding of one of the nation's most famous footballing moments, the 1-0 1994 World Cup finals victory over the Italians at the Giants Stadium in New Jersey. Ray Houghton's winner that day is part of folklore and O'Neill will hope his players can channel that spirit in a bid to pull off an equally unlikely result.


Former Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni often remarked that he could not call upon world-class individuals, but never ceased to be impressed by the commitment and passion of his players. But he did boast a rather impressive record against his native country, securing a 1-1 World Cup qualifier draw in Bari and a 2-2 draw in the reverse fixture, as well as a 2-0 friendly win in Liege before his countrymen finally got the better of him at the Euro 2012 finals.


Italy boss Antonio Conte has been tipped to make nine changes to the side which booked its place in the knockout stages with a 1-0 win over Sweden at the weekend. While that might come as a psychological boost to Ireland, they would do well to remember that an Italian second string might still be quite handy.

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