Italy 0-1 Republic of Ireland: Second string Azzurri side fail to take initiative
Italy lost to the Republic of Ireland 1-0 at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy on Wednesday night, which secured the Azzurri’s top spot in group E in the European Championship.
Robbie Brady opened the scoring for Ireland with Wes Hoolahan sending the ball from the wing perfectly, finding the Irish forward in the box with the goalkeeper in no man’s land.
The Azzurri coach, Antonio Conte, was keen to freshen his team ahead of the knock-out stages, and also knew that the route to the final was much less hazardous for the group winners.
Conte made eight changes from his starting 11 that beat Sweden in the previous group stage game.
The first half was rather scrappy as both teams struggled to get the ball in an attacking position, Ireland having the majority of the possession with the Azzurri playing a defensive first half and not looking confident with the ball.
The best chance from the Azzurri’s first half came from a Ciro Immobile strike hitting the ball wide of the mark just before the 43rd minute.
Ireland were certainly helped by a succession of crosses in the closing stages of the first half which were well defended by their powerful centre-halves, but as the game wore on, they dropped deeper and deeper, yet continued to mount formidable resistance.
Italy were knocking on the door late in the first half, but a combination of dogged Irish defending and the unfortunate bounce of the ball kept them searching for the breakthrough as they went in level at the interval.
The second half showed more attacking prowess from the Azzurri, pressing more and holding possession and working the ball around much better then what was displayed in the first 45 minutes.
Ireland had the best of the chances in this game and sent the Irish fans into a meltdown when they scored a very late winner in the 85th minute, Hoolahan who missed a clear cut chance before redeemed himself with a well whipped ball sent from the right wing perfectly finding Brady in space.
This was not the performance an Italian team heading for the round of 16 would be happy with. The effort was there, but the quality – the crucial element at this level – proved to be elusive.
The Azzurri will now face Spain in the round of 16 knockout phase on Tuesday in Paris.