Group G drew to a close today and Italy vs the Republic of Ireland was just one of the games taking place.
This game was HUGE! It was packed full of tension, nervousness and meaning; but mainly for the Irish. Italy, were already through to the next round due to their latest win against Sweden, meaning they had nothing to play for. Ireland on the other hand, had it all to play for as a win meant they stood a chance of reaching the Round of 16, but it was a very slim chance at that! Anything less than a win meant the luck of the Irish ran out and they would be sent packing.
Ireland were on the back foot very slightly early doors but they managed to find their feet and make themselves a chance. The ball was collected from Jeff Hendrick about 25 yards from goal and it glided inches wide of the post. Ireland were clearly spurred on by this chance as about 10 minutes later, striker Daryl Murphy connected with a strong header from a corner, which was then tipped over the bar.
Italy decided to rest eight of the starting eleven which helped them through to the knockout stages, this was no surprise as they had already guaranteed first spot in the group. Despite the drop in quality to their original team, the Italians showed strength and solidarity at the back as per usual, as they held firm and stopped any Ireland attacks or crosses creating any real danger.
It was safe to say that the first half was all Ireland. They bombarded the Italians with attack after attack and constant crosses but it didn’t stop the Azzurri from having a chance at goal as Immobile collected the ball just outside the area, calmly got himself into space, picked his head up and hit the ball towards goal only for it to fizz wide.
Just before the interval, Ireland had a major penalty shout turned down as Jame McClean ran the ball into the Italian box only to receive an elbow and push to the back from Bernardeschi. Nobody could deny that it looked to be a definite penalty, but unfortunately for the Irish their luck did not kick in and it was waved away by the referee.
It only took six minutes for the first chance of the second half to come along and it was created by the Italians, as the ball was whipped into the box it posed real danger and it was shown as Simone Zaza had an unmarked chance in the Irish box. The Italian striker struck the ball on the volley first time but it went just over the bar, which was a massive sigh of relief for Ireland.
The meaning of the game was really starting to set into Ireland as their style of play slowed down and not many chances were created in the second half, despite having the majority of the possession. The Italian defence stood strong and showed no sign of tiredness or weakness that could be exploited, which grew highly frustrating. In the 77th minute finally the game has another chance. Lorenzo Insigne, who had not long been on the pitch, collected the ball and glided through the middle of the park. He stood tall on the edge of the Ireland box and hit a delightful, curling effort towards goal which smacked off the post and then bounced clear of any danger.
In the final stages, Ireland pushed for the winner, there was a crushing moment for the Irish when Wes Hoolahan pounced on an Italian defensive mistake and ran through on goal, only for him to smash it straight at Sirigu. Because of that it seemed all over… but Robbie Brady had other ideas as the ball was curled in beautifully into the path of the Irish forward and he headed home to give the Irish a 1-0 lead to put his nation through to the Round of 16!