Ah, football. Only from the depths of despair can a victory feel so good – and make no mistake, after Wes Hoolahan missed Ireland’s chance of the game late on it looked very much like Martin O’Neill’s team would be exiting the tournament. Despair.
But barely a minute later the same man hooked the ball into the box and suddenly – a goal! The scenes. Ireland are through to the last 16 of Euro 2016 after defeating Antonio Conte’s Italy.
Here’s what happened.
Ireland just did a madting💚☘— Manny (@Manny_Official) June 22, 2016
1. Jeff Hendrick is denied another screamer (nine minutes). Much like against Sweden, Hendrick started the game looking like he was determined to be involved in the goal of the tournament conversation. Picking up the ball from a Daryl Murphy header about 45 yards out, the Derby man shimmied left and right before unleashing a left-foot screamer that whistled just millimetres past the post.
2. Shane Long is denied a penalty after an arm across the face (30 minutes). Leonardo Bonucci floors Long as the ball comes into the box from a corner and the referee blows the whistle. Penalty? No, the referee orders it to be retaken. It seems a strange decision.
3. James McClean is brought down in the box, no penalty given (44 minutes). If there was some question around the last one, there was surely none with this. McClean bursts into the box and shapes to shoot, only to be elbowed in the back by Federico Bernardeschi. Again the referee gives nothing.
4. Moments after coming on Lorenzo Insigne strikes the post (77 minutes). What an entrance that would have been. A run at the defence and a curling shot, but Ireland remain in the game as it hits the foot of the upright.
5. Wes Hoolahan is put clean through on goal but his tame shot is saved (84 minutes). No sooner had Hoolahan come on than he was in front of goal with nobody near him, but a side foot straight into Salvatore Sirigu’s hands seemed to be it for Ireland’s night.
6. Robbie Brady meets a delightful cross to finally get the goal (85 minutes). Undeterred by his miss just moments earlier, Hoolahan whipped the ball in-swinging from the right towards the head of Brady, who’d made a run from deep, and the two Norwich players guaranteed Ireland’s passage to the last 16.
The same names for Ireland that had performed in the first two games: Hendrick and Brady were in fine form both in open play and from set-pieces, while Long put in his usual energetic performance.
The Irish defence were rarely troubled but Richard Keogh and Shane Duffy did well after replacing Ciaran Clark and John O’Shea, while McClean was also a constant threat and was unlucky not to win a penalty.
Italy, as a group, seemed to already be thinking about the fixture against Spain on Monday. The Azurri knew coming into the game that they’d top the group, so there was no harm, and Antonio Conte had also rung the changes.
Aside from that, the referee deserves a mention here. Ireland should have had at least one penalty. We’ll leave it at that.
Undoubtedly, yes! The Irish dominated the game from the very first minute, and while it looked for a long time like Ireland wouldn’t get the luck they needed in the match Brady’s late winner resulted in utter jubilation in the stands – and no doubt all across Ireland.
Just look at what it means to Roy Keane. It’s the first time Ireland have ever reached the Euros’ last 16.
4 - The Republic of Ireland have become the 4th team to beat Italy in both the World Cup and European Championships. Celebrations. #Euro2016— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 22, 2016
Ireland face hosts France in Lyon on Sunday 26 at 2pm, while for Italy the test is just as tough – Spain in Paris on Monday 27 at 5pm.