It will be the clash of top and bottom when Italy take on Republic of Ireland at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy. This Group E fixture of Euro 2016 will be played on Wednesday, June 22.
Italy came to France high on experience and low on expectations. Not even their own supporters were confident of how good their performances will be or how deep they can go. But they answered all those critics emphatically in their group opener against Belgium thrashing the pre-tournament favorites 2-0 in a lopsided contest. The famous Italian defence was in full presence thwarting the Red Devils’ attacks but it was their attack that surprised everyone. However, the fluidity of their frontline went missing in their next game against Sweden. The lack of pace from Graziano Pelle was their undoing till he was replaced by Simone Zaza. Italy could find pace all of a sudden and the substitution paid rich dividends when Eder scored in the closing stages from a Zaza layoff. The win was not in the same breath as it was against Belgium but it was enough to wrap their place in the knockouts.
Antonio Conte can now rest some of his top players ahead of some tough encounters in the knockouts. His ageing squad will be happy with rotation and the lack of pressure in the final game could also suit their needs.
Republic of Ireland may not have huge ambitions but they take heart in rendering tight displays as was evident in their opening fixture against Sweden. Their effectiveness in thwarting the presence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic was exemplary as Wes Hoolahan gave them the lead. It looked like the Irish would hang on for a win but a late own goal gave Sweden a share of the spoils. If they were impressive against Sweden, the game against Belgium didn’t go entirely to their script. Ireland were able to stifle the Belgians for the first half but a marauding display from the Red Devils was worth three goals and a heavy loss for Ireland.
That leaves Republic of Ireland with just one point and bottom of the group standings. More than the points, the negative goal difference could hurt them in the final analysis. A win against Italy in the final game could see them jump to second although it would require considerable help from Sweden. Four points should be enough for third place, though, and a probable place in the knockouts. With Italy already confirmed of their berth in next round, Ireland hope for reduced intensity from them.
Italy have lost just two of their last ten encounters and more importantly are on a four match winning streak. If they can continue to keep up their intensity, this side can surprise many of the pundits who have written them off way too early.
Republic of Ireland have a poor recent record coming into the match with no wins in their last five matches. They may have gained reputation as a strong defensive unit but the biggest challenge is to take the next step and win a crunch match.
Key players and team news
Italy have a gamut of players carrying yellow cards which could force the hand of Conte. Leonardo Bonucci and Georgio Chiellini could sit out to protect their cards while there could be rest for the likes of Antonio Candreva.
Republic of Ireland don’t have any injuries or suspensions to worry about but could adopt a more attacking line up to suit their need for a win.
Italy won all four of their recent games and should be gunning for a positive result here as well. The famous Italian defence was at its best with Italy producing four clean sheets consecutively. In only three of the last ten matches that opponents were able to score more than a single goal. Also, they have scored in all these matches which makes them a difficult team to face.
Republic of Ireland are exactly the opposite with no wins in their last five matches. More so, they have failed to keep a clean sheet in any of these games which is a concern for them. But scoring isn’t a problem for them with just one match seeing them fail to score – the last one against Belgium.
It could be a tight encounter which could be decided by a single goal.
Under 1.5 goals in the game at odds of 2.5 with Coral.