Thursday 18 January 2018

O'Neill says Germany win proves Ireland can compete with Italians

Martin O’Neill walks the pitch in Lille yesterday ahead of tonight’s Euro 2016 Group E clash against Italy. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin O’Neill walks the pitch in Lille yesterday ahead of tonight’s Euro 2016 Group E clash against Italy. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Martin O'Neill has told his Ireland players to concentrate on recent history as the inspiration to believe they can stay in Euro 2016 by defeating Italy in Lille tonight.

The Derryman says the October success over Germany is of more relevance to this encounter than Ray Houghton's famous goal in the Giants Stadium which delivered a World Cup triumph over the Azzurri in 1994.

Nothing less than the maximum return will do for the underdogs, with yesterday's results confirming that three points will be enough to ensure a place in the last 16 against either France or Croatia, and O'Neill has told his group to remember the famous German triumph.

"We have our own memories to inspire us, none more so than the night when we beat the World Champions," he said. "That was an extraordinary result. That was inspirational enough for us to go and beat Bosnia in the play-offs.

"We don't have to go back to 1994 because it was this set of players that did it and gave us the opportunity to come here. And, as much as we've enjoyed our days here, we'd like to stay a bit longer."

Italy manager Antonio Conte, who takes over as Chelsea boss after the Euros, was a substitute in New York 22 years ago and referenced the Germany match in pointing out that this Irish group retain the same characteristics: determination, desire and selflessness.

Conte, whose side will top Group E no matter what the result and learned last night that they will face Spain in the last 16, is expected to make up to nine changes but promised that it would not be treated like a dead-rubber.

Conte did hit out at the inadequate pitch at Stade Pierre-Mauroy which will be replaced on Friday and is such a cause for concern that neither side were permitted to train on it. UEFA have described the surface as "irreversibly damaged".

"It's not in the best state and it's not up to hosting a European Championships match," he said.

"I don't like to come up with excuses. However, we did expect a different pitch to this one. It's a shame because the Euros have been organised very well so far."

The retractable roof was closed when O'Neill and his staff inspected the facility and UEFA will confirm this morning if it will be opened for the match with thunderstorms forecast across the day.

It was shut for the meeting of Russia and Slovakia, but open for France's draw with Switzerland.

Irish Independent

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