Wednesday 13 December 2017

Lyon here we come

Brady’s stunning late header sinks Italy and seals last 16 showdown with France on Sunday

Ireland’s Robbie Brady heads past Salvatore Sirigu for the only goal of the game against Italy in the Group E qualifier in Lille last night. Photo: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images
Ireland’s Robbie Brady heads past Salvatore Sirigu for the only goal of the game against Italy in the Group E qualifier in Lille last night. Photo: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Martin O'Neill has challenged his Ireland players to ensure that last night’s heroic victory over Italy is not the high point of their Euro 2016 adventure.

Robbie Brady’s fantastic 84th-minute winner capped a spirited performance from a much-changed side to ensure the 1-0 win they required to set up a tantalising showdown with hosts France in the round of 16 in Lyon this Sunday.

An overjoyed O’Neill said that he’d never been prouder of a group of players in his long managerial career, but stressed that they must now refocus to try and make the most of this opportunity.

“We’ve got through and I don’t really want to think this is the end of us,” said the 64-year-old. “But we will need another performance like tonight.”

Man of the match Brady rose to meet a Wes Hoolahan cross just seconds after the latter – a 77th-minute substitute – had squandered a clear-cut opportunity to put Ireland ahead.

O’Neill pointed to the genesis of the goal as further evidence of this team’s resilience following a campaign packed with late drama.

He also paid tribute to a younger brigade led by Brady, Jeff Hendrick, competitive debutant Shane Duffy and James McCarthy who retained his place ahead of Glenn Whelan to put in an energetic display on a sub-standard playing surface.

“There’s been a togetherness in our play over the last two years,” he said. “We have a couple of players over the age of 30 and we needed energy in our side tonight and that’s why I made the changes. We needed to have everyone at it and not drop the tempo.

“Some of our players don’t play at the highest level but when we come together, we have to try and neutralise the advantages other teams have. It would have been hard to pick a weakness in our side tonight. I thought everyone played heroically.”

The Irish group showed maturity to keep their head in warm temperatures under the closed roof at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy.

Before the match, former Irish assistant Marco Tardelli had claimed that the squad he worked with was bereft of real football intelligence.

After declining to comment in the preliminaries, O’Neill responded before boarding the bus back to Versailles.

“Marco Tardelli said we couldn’t play with our heads,” he said. “I think tonight’s performance against his nation might have put that to rest.”

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