Robbie Brady’s late, late show sets up clash with hosts France
On night to remember against reeling Italians midfielder clinches qualification spot
The Republic of Ireland will play tournament hosts France in the next round of Euro 2016 after another famous 1-0 victory over Italy, this time on an emotional night in Lille.
Twenty-two years after Ray Houghton proved the hero against Italy in the World Cup game in Giant’s Stadium, New Jersey, it was the turn of Robbie Brady to write his name into sporting history last night.
But Brady was only of many Irish heroes in the game, including manager Martin O’Neill, who made sweeping changes to the team that lost to Belgium and was rewarded with a performance of great courage and skill. The victory leads on to Lyon where the Republic will play France next Sunday, kicking off at 2pm.
The end of the group stages of the championship revealed the rest of the fixtures for the first knockout round, with Northern Ireland playing Wales in Paris on Saturday and England playing Iceland next Monday.
From the start last night, the Republic responded to assistant manager Roy Keane’s call for physicality, threatening to turn the game into a football version of the Battle of the Somme.
Séamus Coleman, James McClean and Jeff Hendrick took turns to clatter Italians in the opening 10 minutes, before Ireland fired the first shot at goal, Hendrick just missing the left upright.
In a land and air assault, they followed this with a Daryl Murphy header that forced goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu to tip the ball over. And after Italy finally managed their first shot in the 43rd minute, Ireland had a very good case for a penalty, when McClean was shoved to the ground.
In a nervier opening to the second half, however, the Italians came nearest to scoring. So with Irish energy levels sagging, O’Neill brought on Aiden McGeady for Murphy, and then Wes Hoolahan for James McCarthy.
In one way, this win was the mirror image of the immortal 1-0 win against England in Stuttgart 1988. Then we scored after six minutes and had to bite our fingernails for the last 84. Here it was the other way round.
With the last five minutes of regulation time approaching, McGeady passed wide to Hoolahan, whose perfect cross invited Brady to become the Ray Houghton of his era, albeit with a header he could hardly miss.
It was one-nil Ireland, and if the fans didn’t raise the roof, it was only because Lille really has one and it was closed.