Martin O’Neill: Changed Italian team will be very dangerous ‘because they are Italy’

Republic of Ireland boss Martin O'Neill has warned his players not to be fooled by talk of Italy fielding a weakened team as Euro 2016 Group E reaches its conclusion.

The Italians arrived in Lille for Wednesday evening's showdown with the Republic having already booked not only their place in the last 16 but top spot after victories over Belgium and Sweden, ominously without conceding a goal.

Coach Antonio Conte is expected to make changes for the game at the Stade Pierre Mauroy, with some reports suggesting as many as nine, although O'Neill, whose side needs to win to have a chance of progressing, is refusing to be taken in.

Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

He said: "Italy, regardless of the changes in the team, will be very dangerous because they are Italy and the players who are coming into the squad actually come from Roma, AC Milan, big places, so these players are top quality players and we have to be ready for that and we think that we are.

"When you boil it down to what it's going to be, it's a matter of winning a game. If we win, there's a fairly decent chance that we will get through to the last 16 and four points out of the group, if we can achieve that, would be terrific for us.

"The players know what they have to do and they're ready for it."

Ireland boasted a creditable record when facing Italy under former boss Giovanni Trapattoni, who recorded qualifier draws home and away and a 2-0 friendly victory against his native country before losing to them at Euro 2012.

However, his assistant Marco Tardelli stoked the fires ahead of the game when he suggested Irish players do not have the football intellect to match the bigger teams in international football.

Asked about Tardelli's remarks, O'Neill said: "I think that Marco is entitled to his opinion," while full-back Seamus Coleman added: "I'm not really bothered what Marco thinks."

O'Neill, who confirmed that striker Jonathan Walters did not train with the rest of the squad in Versailles on Tuesday morning and is therefore highly unlikely to be involved, has spent the days since Saturday's sobering 3-0 defeat by Belgium working along with his coaches to prevent a repeat, and is confident he will get the desired response from his players.

He said: "We don't want the game to run away from us early on - I'm sure that it won't, I think we will be very strong.

"I just think that we have to try to get back the momentum that we had from the Swedish game and the chances that we created in the match, we might just have to take one or two more."

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