Three challenges facing Martin O'Neill before Ireland play Italy

After yesterday's 3-0 defeat to Belgium in Bordeaux, Martin O'Neill will have to hope his players get a win against Italy on Wednesday.

Three challenges facing Martin O'Neill before Ireland play Italy

By John Fallon

After yesterday's 3-0 defeat to Belgium in Bordeaux, Martin O'Neill will have to hope his players get a win against Italy on Wednesday.

Here we look at three things O'Neill will have to consider in his preparations.

1. Where to play Robbie Brady?

The Leicester City target has been deployed in three positions in the two games so far and looked most effective in an advanced role for the latter stages against Belgium.

Brady will be required most in Ireland’s search for goals on Wednesday and therefore will be best positioned behind the central striker should, as expected, Wes Hoolahan is moved to the bench. Whether from open play or set-pieces, the Dubliner is the hub of Ireland’s attacking threat.

2. Who plays alongside John O’Shea?

Martin O’Neill’s biggest call at the Euros to date was dropping Richard Keogh in order for Ciaran Clark to start against Sweden.

If relegation wasn’t deflating enough, then Clark scored an own-goal to gift the Swedes a point before getting skinned by Eden Hazard in the run-up to Belgium’s third goal on Saturday.

Keogh didn’t let O’Neill down in the crucial last stages of qualification and his freshness has potential to alleviate the pressure on O’Shea, the 35-year-old starting his third game in nine days.

3. Whether to put James McCarthy out of his misery

Suspicions were rightly raised about the Everton man’s fitness for battle when he failed to appear for a minute of the farewell friendlies against Holland and Belarus last month. If McCarthy struggled to impose himself against Sweden, then he was brutally exposed by a Belgian side several notches up in class.

Having been substituted after the second goal on Saturday, it could be argued he’s been preserved but O’Neill may feel Stephen Quinn is a better option in that role against the slick Italians.

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