Lille (France) (AFP) – Seamus Coleman believes the Republic of Ireland can claim another famous win over Italy on Wednesday and make themselves “heroes” by qualifying for the Euro 2016 knockout stage.
Ireland go into their final Group E game in Lille with just a single point and must win on a shocking surface at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy if they are to reach the knockout phase.
Italy have clinched qualification for the last 16 as group winners, having won their opening two matches. That success could play into the hands of Martin O’Neill’s side as they attempt to bounce back from a 3-0 defeat to Belgium.
“You look back over the years and you see players making names for themselves, making themselves heroes with the Irish fans. It is obviously something that you dream about,” Everton right-back Coleman told a press conference on Tuesday.
Ireland are looking to repeat their famous 1-0 success against Italy at the 1994 World Cup in the United States when Ray Houghton’s stunning goal secured what remains their only competitive victory against the Azzurri.
Coleman, who was only five at the time, said his memories of that win are vague but pointed out that the current Irish side need look no further than their 1-0 win against world champions Germany in qualifying last October that propelled them towards France.
“I probably can’t remember too much of it,” he said of the 1994 World Cup. “I remember the goals and the rest but we don’t have to look too far back.
“That night in Dublin and Shane Long’s goal was a memorable night for us all. And we know that when it all clicks for us and we stick together for the 90 minutes and don’t lose concentration that we are capable of beating big teams.
“I do genuinely believe there is a big result left in us in this group.”
Houghton also scored the only goal when Ireland beat England 1-0 at the 1988 Euros, which remains their only win in the European Championship finals.
– ‘Life and death’ –
Italy coach Antonio Conte — whose team beat Belgium 2-0 and Sweden 1-0 — is expected to make as many as nine changes to his starting XI with one eye on their last-16 tie against the Group D runners-up at the Stade de France next Monday.
One of those alterations is likely to see Salvatore Sirigu start in goal in place of veteran Gianluigi Buffon, who is one booking away from a suspension and has been struggling with illness.
In addition, Lazio midfielder Antonio Candreva is on the sidelines, but Ireland manager O’Neill warned against complacency.
“Italy, regardless of the changes in the team, will be very dangerous because they are Italy. The players that are coming in will be top quality players and we have to be ready for that,” said O’Neill.
He added that Stoke City forward Jon Walters, who has been struggling with an achilles injury and missed the defeat to Belgium, is “very doubtful” and refused to rule out a change in his tactical set-up for the game.
Conte — who was an unused substitute in the defeat at the 1994 World Cup — is eager for his team to keep their momentum going and had a warning for his players.
“This is a team that beat Germany in qualifying. You don’t beat Germany just by the grace of God or because you had a lucky day,” said the future Chelsea manager.
“They have significant ability in the team, everyone helps each other out. They are very physical and a compact unit. It is life and death for them.”
Conte said the Lille pitch “isn’t up to hosting a European Championship match.”
UEFA have said the surface will be relaid on Friday in time to host two knockout stage matches.
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