Martin O’Neill says Republic of Ireland must take inspiration from their “extraordinary” win over Germany as they prepare for a pivotal Euro 2016 clash with Italy.
A 1-1 draw with Sweden and a 3-0 defeat to Belgium means Ireland must take maximum points against the Group E leaders to keep alive their chances of reaching the last 16.
Much has been made during the build-up of the famous 1-0 win over Italy at the World Cup in 1994, when a solitary goal from Ray Houghton was enough to secure a victory that saw Ireland progress from the group stage.
But O’Neill believes his players need look no further than a 1-0 victory over Germany in October last year – a result that helped to seal a spot in the play-offs, where they went on to beat Bosnia-Herzegovina – as they look to produce a memorable shock in Lille.
“We’ve got our own recent memories to inspire us, none more so than when we beat the world champions on a night that we had to win,” the coach said on Tuesday. “It was an extraordinary result.
“It was inspirational enough for us to go to beat Bosnia over two games in the play-offs. It’s that set of players that gave us the opportunity to come here, and as much as we’ve enjoyed these few days, we want to stay here a bit longer.
“I think the most important thing is to be really positive. We started rather tentatively against Belgium and we felt we gave the ball away too easily, which was a disappointment coming off the brilliant performance against Sweden. We want to start on the front foot and I think everything else will fall into place.
“I have to take into consideration the fitness and freshness of the players who have played a lot. Energy is very important to the team. Eventually you need creativity as well, we have a number of players capable of going past players. I take all that into consideration.
“We don’t want the game to run away from us early on, but I’m sure it won’t. We just have to try to get back the momentum from the Sweden game and take one or two more chances. Italy will be very dangerous, regardless of any changes. The players coming in are from Roma, AC Milan – big places. We have to be ready for that. I think that we are.
“If you narrow it down to the rudiments of things, when we set out we felt we had to win a game and maybe get another point. So we have to win the match. There’s good confidence about the team. They have to fight for everything and cut out the mistakes made against Belgium, not be caught out when attacking.”
O’Neill, who confirmed that striker Jonathan Walters is unlikely to be fit after missing training due to an ongoing Achilles problem, is desperate to give Ireland’s travelling fans something to celebrate after their unflinching support so far.
“I looked at it from a distance over the last 20 years but the fans have always come in big numbers and been brilliantly behaved,” he said. “We had a full house in the Stade de France, 80,000, and people walking together in green and yellow shirts.
“Hopefully these are not famous last words but the Irish fans have been great and they’re welcome at most tournaments. The players did a lot of good in the Sweden game and we have to return to that because these fans have spent money to support the side. We want to do something to reward them. They’re terrific, always have been.”
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