Jeff Hendrick has told the Republic of Ireland they have nothing to lose in their do-or-die Euro 2016 clash with Italy.
Hendrick and his team-mates will be going home if they fail to beat the Group E leaders in Lille on Wednesday night after Saturday’s bruising 3-0 defeat by Belgium in Bordeaux.
Martin O’Neill’s men never really got themselves into the second game in the competition and were ultimately punished by Romelu Lukaku’s double either side of Axel Witsel’s thumping header as the Belgians finally showed up at the tournament.
That left them facing a trip to Lille knowing they will have to pull off one of the biggest results in the nation’s footballing history if they are to extend their stay in France.
Midfielder Hendrick said: “We’ve nothing to lose. We know we have to get a win.
“We take confidence — even though we went 3-0 down, we kept the ball well and that’s what we have got to do for 90 minutes against Italy. We have got to be better at keeping the ball.
“It is hard work when you play countries who keep the ball. It tires you out, so we’ve got to try to do that to other teams.
“We’ll have to watch the videos and assess this game and see what we did well and badly, and try to improve on it and make sure we’re right going into the Italy game.
“We’ll do our homework on them, but we have just got to put this result behind us and try to move on. We need to win against Italy, so it’s do-or-die.”
Ireland battled their way to half-time unscathed on a day when they saw little of the ball as Belgium dominated possession, although keeper Darren Randolph had little to do.
However, they fell behind within three minutes of the restart when, with striker Shane Long appealing in vain for a penalty after finding himself sandwiched between Thomas Vermaelen and former Southampton team-mate Toby Alderweireld, the Belgians broke at pace for Lukaku to fire expertly past Randolph.
Hendrick said: “We knew it would be a tough game and it showed in the first half. It looked like we weathered the storm.
“Then we got out in the second half and we started to string a few passes together. We’re on the attack and then for them to break and score is hard to take.”
It proved a sobering afternoon for the Republic at the Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux as the positivity taken from their performance in a 1-1 draw with Sweden in their opening game largely evaporated.
Hendrick turned in a fine individual display against the Swedes to enhance his growing reputation — several Barclays Premier League clubs are understood to be monitoring the 24-year-old Derby man’s progress — although the stakes were raised significantly on Saturday.
He found himself confronted by the excellent Witsel, Mousa Dembele and later Radja Nainggolan as he tried to influence the game with Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne and Yannick Carrasco terrorising Ireland going in the opposite direction.
But Hendrick embarked upon a steep learning curve when he made the step up into international football and he is happy to be continuing his education in such rarefied circles.
Asked if he was playing the best football of his career, he said: “I don’t know. I’m just trying to go out and play as well as I can for my country. That’s what I always try to do — it’s what I always will try to do.
“I’ve to get on the ball and try to make things happen. Obviously I’m going to work hard no matter what. I look at the games and I can do better. I’ll look back on today and work out things I can do better and hopefully improve on in the next game.”