Italy a great bet to ease past toothless Ireland: Euro 2016 previewPublished June 21, 2016
Ireland started the Euro 2016 championships in pretty good form. A 1-1 with Sweden with the Irish the team that would feel more aggrieved that they didn’t take all three points, bode well for Martin O’Neill’s men. However, a thumping from a rejuvenated Belgium 3-0 with the Republic not forcing goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois into a single save, means that they will have to probably beat Italy to qualify for the next round.
The Belgians had done their homework and saw that Wes Hoolahan was given too much freedom against Sweden and they shackled Ireland’s most impressive player well, giving him little room to create. With little else on, the Irish more often than not launched long balls, essentially looking for Jon Walters whose physicality was missed. Shane Long was a lone figure upfront, but may feel he should have won a penalty when he was caught by a wild Toby Alderweireld boot inside the Belgium area, just before Romelu Lukaku opened the scoring.
Long will look at his Southampton teammate Graziano Pellè with envy. Pellè already has a goal to his name and his team are already in the Quarter Finals.
However, few Italians thought it would happen like this. Many were claiming before the tournament that this was the weakest Azzurri side in a generation, and manager Antonio Conte had played down his side’s chances of success in France, citing an ageing squad and a lack of upcoming talent as reasons for fans to temper their expectations.
However, a victory over one of the favourites, Belgium, 2-0 in the first game, won with surprising ease had many singing a different tune. Against Sweden it was a different story, as for 88 minutes, few chances were created at either end, until Brazilian-born striker Eder scored in the closing stages with only Italy’s second shot on target, driving brilliantly into the left corner of Andreas Isaksson’s net.
Conte has conceded that he may field a weakened team against Ireland, but even a second-string Italian side should be too strong for Ireland.
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