LILLE, France (AP) — Ireland will be seeking to draw inspiration from last year’s victory over Germany when it takes on another multiple world champion, Italy, in Wednesday’s decisive Group E match at the European Championship.
With one point from its first two games, Ireland must win to stand a chance of advancing from the group — a feat it has failed to achieve at its two previous appearances in the competition in 1988 and 2012.
Italy has already secured first place in the group with wins over Belgium and Sweden.
Ireland hasn’t beaten Italy in a competitive game since the 1994 World Cup. But coach Martin O’Neill believes his team has the confidence to finally do it again, especially with its 1-0 win over Germany in a Euro 2016 qualifier last year at the back of its mind.
“We don’t have to go back as far as 1994 for inspiration,” O’Neill said Tuesday. “The night in October when we beat the world champions on a night we had to win, that was extraordinary. That was a great moment for us, that was inspirational for us.”
The win helped Ireland reach the playoffs, where it defeated Bosnia-Herzegovina for a spot in France.
Defender Seamus Coleman also had fond memories of the Germany game.
“That night in Dublin, with Shane Long’s goal, was a memorable night,” Coleman said. “We know that if we stick together and don’t lose our heads for 90 minutes, we can beat the big teams.”
Even for Italy coach Antonio Conte, his opponent’s victory over the reigning world champions was a clear indication of the strength of the Irish team.
“Let’s not forget this is a team that beat Germany in qualifying,” Conte said through an interpreter. “You don’t do that just because you have a lucky day. They have significant qualities.”
Conte said “we’re not taking the match lightly by any means,” but hinted he planned to rest several key players ahead of the last 16.
Ireland will likely be without striker Jon Walters. Suffering from an Achilles injury, the Stoke forward skipped the team’s final training session in Versailles on Tuesday morning, and O’Neill said Walters “is very doubtful” for the game.
Walters’ injury flared up in Ireland’s first game against Sweden, and forced him out of the following game against Belgium.
The match will be the last one on the heavily damaged pitch at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy before it gets replaced, UEFA said earlier Tuesday.
While the teams were not allowed to train on it, Conte called the playing surface “definitely not suitable for a European Championship match. It’s definitely not in the best state. It’s a shame. The Euros have been organized very well but this pitch really isn’t up to that standard.”
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