Confidence was in short supply. Ask any of the Irish supporters gathering around the screens in Dublin's bars and few seemed to believe there could be anything to match Ray Houghton's goal that beat Italy in the 1994 World Cup. Not this time, they shrugged.
The fans seemed more hopeful than confident. The green jerseys were worn out of duty and defiant pride, but few believed they would be worn again for a serious match this summer.
The bookies were offering nearly 3/1 against Ireland.
"I am expecting a dour affair. A 'dour affair'; that's a bit harsh," thought Kevin Liffey, second-guessing his own honesty in the build-up, but to be fair his was the standard prediction. "I am expecting Ireland to soak up a lot of pressure and then hit in the last 20 minutes. That's what Dunphy and Giles are saying anyway."
His friend, David Lee, sipping a pint in the Long Stone pub in the centre of Dublin, thought it best to lower expectations.
“It would be great to get out of the group, that would be as good as winning it,” he said with little apparent belief this could happen. “We won’t get much more than that.”
If these general doubts were a self-protection mechanism, it seemed to work.
As the Irish tore into the game and created chance after chance, suddenly anything seemed possible and the mood lifted.
The players swarmed the Italian penalty box, fired in corners, peppered shots at the opposition goal; after half an hour they had 60 per cent of the possession.
As the end approached, Robbie Brady became his generation's Ray Houghton.
The pub crowd exploded as the ball hit the net and football chants filled the air.
The ecstatic scenes were repeated around the country, including at O’Shea’s pub in Clonskeagh, south Dublin, where the crowd watching on an outdoor screen erupted in joy at the final whistle.
Back in the Long Stone, Cormac Doherty was beaming. "Amazing, incredible," he said as screams rang out around the beer garden.
“The first half was astonishing, the second half we thought we had lost it but to come back with such a goal was incredible. They needed to prove something and they did.”
His friend Tony Bryan, peeling himself away from one of many group hugs, shouted: "Over the moon! I never seen it coming. The second half we weren't great but somehow we produced the performance. I couldn't see them winning."
A small number of Italians also watched the game in the Long Stone. Sicilian Valentina Tirendi, who has lived in Ireland for four years, was cloaked in green and adamant her heart was with the Irish.
"Italy have a lot to save for the next game against Spain and we want Ireland to go through," she said.
She predicted 1-0 to the Irish and afterwards, as hoarse and jubilant as the Irish crowd, she basked in this rare pre-match confidence.
“What did I say? 1-0. I am so happy for Ireland, they deserve it,” she said and disappeared into the green.