Former Ireland manager Mick McCarthy believes the Republic of Ireland face a tough task tomorrow - and said it would be foolish to rely on facing a second-string Italy team.
“Everyone is clutching at straws if they think Italy might put out a weakened team against Ireland. It’s nonsense, total b*****ks. They may not play all their best players, but it strikes me that they’ve brought 23 of their best players, not just 11.”
With the Azzuris already qualified for the knockout stages there had been some suggestion that Martin O’Neill’s men would benefit from them resting players. But, as McCarthy points out in his Paddy Power blog, the Italian squad has strength in depth and will still be keen to produce a result.
"If Antonio Conte makes a few changes, he will still be able to bring in quality,” he wrote. “And the idea that they may not be giving it everything because they’re already thinking about the Last 16 – mark my words – the Italians want to finish with nine points and beat us.
“Anyone who comes in will want to impress, so we will be facing a good, well organised, motivated Italian team.”
But the former Ireland international, and current Ipswich Town boss, believes the boys in green have a chance if they can improve on recent performances and fully exploit set pieces.
“Our defending needs to improve from what we saw against Belgium and going forward, free-kicks and corners MAY BE our best hope of scoring so deliveries need to be spot on even against what looks like the best defence at the tournament.”
He continued: “Ireland have a history of performing when it’s needed and it is needed on Wednesday. We can win, but it will take our best performance and a bit more.
“It’s got to be one of those performances that comes from the bottom of your heart like our 10 man victory over Holland in 2001 and our last minute draw against Germany in Japan in 2002. It has to be something special.”
The squad had a last training session at Versaille this morning before heading to Lille for tomorrow's final group game.