Brady bags to beat Italy and send Republic of Ireland through to last 16
Holly Thackeray | June 22, 2016
Italy 1-0 Republic of Ireland
- Conte made eight changes to Italy starting XI
- Azzurri had already won Group E and will face champions Spain in last 16
- Hendrick and Murphy had close first-half chances for Ireland
- Credible penalty claim for the Republic ignored after barge on McClean
- First 45 ended evenly
- Brady scored on 84 minutes to send Ireland through
Ireland save Euro spot with last-gasp goal
Euro 2016 Group E drew to a close in cracking fashion as the Republic of Ireland rallied bravely to beat Italy deep in the second-half and reach the last 16.
It had been a fantastic footballing day of surprises, as Hungary held Portugal in a six-goal thriller to win Group F, while similarly inspiring minnows Iceland defeated Austria with a last-gasp goal to pip the Portuguese to second and set up a last 16 encounter with England.
The Emerald Isle outfit (outside shouts at 66/1 with Coral to win Euro 2016) emulated those triumphs in spectacular fashion to avoid crashing out of the France finals with a best third placed finish, despite a notable penalty shout denied in the first-half. The Irish had dominated throughout and finally reaped rewards on 84 minutes thanks to Robbie Brady, while in the other pool game of the evening Sweden lost to Belgium.
Ireland attack Azzurri from the outset
Against an Italy team featuring eight changes from the successful XI against Sweden, with imperious pair Gianluigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini among those rested, the Irish got off to a spirited and swashbuckling start in what was a must-win match for the Emerald Isle.
Ireland had also ringed the changes with Wes Hoolahan, John O’Shea and Glenn Whelan some of the big names left out by Martin O’Neill as he strove for safe passage from Pool E.
Stephen Ward showed his quality with an early in-swinging cross and combined promisingly down the left with James McClean. While, handful Jeff Hendrick’s twinkling toes soon created space outside the Italian area and unleashed a venomous strike just wide of second choice stopper Salvatore Sirigu’s goal, the Derby County man clearly sensing weakness.
Play was paused for a few moments after a clash between Ward and fledgling Fiorentina wideman Federico Bernardeschi, taking the wind out of the Republic’s sails somewhat. But the lull was only brief and the Boys in Green were soon back biting at royal blue heels.
Daryl Murphy rose highest in the box to meet Brady’s corner, only to see his header crash over the crossbar thanks to a deft touch from Sirigu, as it looked like an unlucky night in front of net for Ireland.
Long night as Irish denied penalty shouts
It took about 24 minutes for this second string Italian outfit to make their mark, as reported Leicester City, Swansea City and West Ham United target Simone Zaza raced through on the Green Army’s goal.
Potential future Hammers teammate Darren Randolph rushed out to claim, however, and Ireland resumed their attacking battle plan undeterred, with the keeper showing off some fancy footwork of his own later in the half to avoid the pressing of Zaza.
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The Republic continued to rattle Italy’s rearguard with repeated probing deliveries from the flanks and set-pieces, with Hendrick hooking a ball across goal to much confusion from his own men, as nobody stepped forward to connect.
From the resulting corner, Southampton’s Shane Long received an elbow from Leonardo Bonucci, who was already on a yellow card from the opening Belgium battle, but no penalty was awarded for the obvious infringement as it occurred before the ball was in-play.
Tempers flared, with the Irish rightly incensed, and soon after it was handbags at dawn as Long and Sirigu were both cautioned for a scuffle, with the Italians becoming ever more physical in grappling set-pieces.
West Ham centre back Angelo Ogbonna was a prime suspect as the ex-Juventus man got to grips with Murphy in the box but again Ireland claims were ignored.
Though perhaps the most blatant spot-kick shout came as boisterous Bernardeschi barged trickster McClean inside his own box, bundling the flank threat over but official Ovidiu Alin Hategan was not convinced and the Republic went into the break with it still all to do. Later replays showed the Viola youngster did get a touch on the ball, but the foul remained clear.
Italy remind Ireland of own threat
Italy had looked blunt for most of the match, but bookmarked the break with chances for Ciro Immobile and Zaza to show they still had teeth, though the latter’s was closest as the Juve striker only just saw his volley from a Mattia De Sciglio delivery fizz over.
Ireland were becoming increasingly frantic, clinging on to their competition status with both hands, as even captain for the night Seamus Coleman saw his rifled follow-up repelled and Republic rallying continued.
As a sign of the Green Army’s ascendancy, Manchester United’s Matteo Darmian was subbed on for more attack-minded Bernardeschi to shore things up, while Bonucci continued to flirt with a potential caution.
O’Neill’s Boys in Green kept galloping forward, their France future hanging by a thread, but the crucial breakthrough would just not come.
Brady bags winner amid brilliant scenes
As the clock continued to tick down, attacker Aiden McGeady and playmaker Hoolahan were hauled on for a final rally, with the former immediately trying to get a shot on target.
Though it was Conte’s change which almost delivered a brutal blow, as Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne drove at the Republic rearguard with the curling effort denied only by the post.
Hoolahan then had the chance to be a hero but fluffed his shot straight at the goalkeeper. Determined to make amends, the Norwich City star then clipped in a wonderful cross seconds later for Brady to brilliantly convert with a bullet header on 84 minutes.
Green Army fans were delirious as Ireland join the likes of closest neighbours Northern Ireland, England and Wales in the last 16 amid a sea of bright green celebrations. Ireland will now face formidable hosts France next and may just feel confident of upsetting the apple cart yet again.
While, Group E winners Italy take on reigning champions Spain and though they will be disappointed by this last-gasp loss, were never at the races here with so many rested so will surely present a much stauncher challenge next week.