Verdict: Both teams to score – yes
Group winners Italy can afford to feel relaxed ahead of their final group game against the Republic of Ireland at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy as two wins from Belgium and Sweden games were quite enough for Azzurri to assert their dominance in Group E.
Italy were forced to make hard to earn their ticket for knockout stages of the 2016 European Championship having been forced to wait late for a 1-0 triumph over Sweden. Eder’s 88th-minute goal put Italy on maximum points even though Conte’s men looked to be heading for a goalless draw. Italians have so far showed great determination and grit as they look to make one step further to their Euro 2012 participation when they were halted in the final match of the tournament. Italy headed to France on the back of public criticism and Antonio Conte’s men have done enough to show that this generation of players is not quite the weakest team Italy have had in years. Impressive team spirit, unity and motivation seem to be guiding them forward and Azzurri are sure to be force to be reckoned with during the elimination stage of the Euro 2016. With no pressure ahead of the Ireland match, Antonio Conte can afford a rare moment of relaxation and is likely to give some of the squad fringe players a run out.
Conte will surely opt to rest key members of his squad in order to have them fully fit for the knockouts. Several changes to his line-up are expected.
Gianluigi Buffon is likely to be left on the bench with Sirigu ready to step in. Ogbonna, Motta, De Sciglio, El Shaarawy and Immobile are all pushing for places and could be expected to have a run from the off.
Republic of Ireland
Having opened the 2016 European Championship with impressive display against Sweden, which was ruined by Ciaran Clarck’s own-goal, Republic of Ireland failed to get back on their feet and suffered a compelling 3-0 loss to Belgium. The Boys in Green were left powerless to motivated Belgians, but manager Martin O’Neil remains upbeat despite heavy defeat. Ireland is faced with an enticing prospect of beating the second-string Italy side, while they will also have to hope for Sweden to drop points in order to keep their hopes of advancing through alive. Numbers are against O’Neill’s side who is winless in seven European Championship game, a run stretching all the way back to 1988. Republic of Ireland’s task is made even harder knowing that Martin O’Neill’s men have failed to win any of their last five games with March win over Switzerland being their last triumph. Motivation and desire will hardly be enough for a team struggling to find its pace for quite a while now.
Jon Walters and Wes Hoolahan are both carrying knocks and their appearance at the game against Italy remains a serious doubt.
Having been singled out as two weakest links in O’Neill’s team during the first two games of the tournament, James McCarthy and Ciaran Clark are likely to sit through the match against Italy.
Key Factors to Consider
- Italy are unbeaten in 12 games under Antonio Conte
- Azzurri are on a four-match winning streak
- Italy have not conceded a goal in any of their last 4 games
- Rep of Ireland are winless at Euros since 1988
- O’Neill’s men failed to win in their last five competitive matches
Italy head into the final game of the groups stage of the tournament feeling relaxed and carefree which can be their main advantage in the match. Antonio Conte is likely to give his fringe players a chance to shine and we shouldn’t be surprised if Italy’s second-string squad goes hard from the off against knocked-down Ireland. Martin O’Neill’s men are likely to open up as they have no time to lose and we could be in for an openly-contested affair.
Verdict: Both teams to score – yes
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