The Republic of Ireland will look for a major upset, an upset they absolute must fashion, when they play Italy in a Group E match of Euro 2016 on Wednesday. With one place from Group E already decided – Italy have qualified as the winners – only one more certain place remains, and Ireland will want to be the ones who grab that last 16 slot with a big win over the Azzurri.
Ireland were quite disappointing in their last match, barely putting up a fight against Belgium, who went on to win 3-0. It could have been much worse on another day, and Martin O'Neill will know his team cannot afford another similar performance.
Indeed, the Republic of Ireland will need to take a 180-degree turn as far as performance is concerned, because all they can afford to get from Lille is three points. Irrespective of what happens in the other Group E match between Belgium and Sweden, if Ireland do not beat Italy, they will be taking an early flight back home. O'Neill is set to inspire his players by pointing to the fact that Ireland beat the world champions Germany back in October, last year.
"We have our own recent memories to inspire us, none more so than when we beat the world champions, on a night when we had to win," O'Neill was quoted as saying by The Guardian. "It was an extraordinary result and that was inspirational enough for us to go and beat Bosnia (in the playoffs)."
What might also help in the Republic of Ireland's favour is the fact that, since Italy have already qualified, Antonio Conte is expected to ring in the changes. Several of the Italy stars are expected to be rested, particularly the majority of that ridiculously-strong backline, opening up the possibility for Shane Long, Wes Hoolahan and co. to take advantage.
"Italy, regardless of the changes in the team, will be very dangerous because they are Italy and the players who are coming into the squad actually come from Roma, AC Milan, big places, so these players are top quality players and we have to be ready for that and we think that we are," O'Neil was quoted by the Irish Examiner.
"When you boil it down to what it's going to be, it's a matter of winning a game. If we win, there's a fairly decent chance that we will get through to the last 16 and four points out of the group, if we can achieve that, would be terrific for us. The players know what they have to do and they're ready for it."
For Italy, this match will be about staying perfect in the group stages and carrying the momentum forward to when they play champions Spain in the first knockout round. While Conte will undoubtedly make a number of changes, the manager will also be wary of losing the rhythm, which saw them seal a place in the last 16, and top spot in the group, with a match to spare.
"It's not a soft game -- Ireland are tough opponents," Conte told UEFA's official website. "We're already through, but that doesn't mean anything. What I ask of my lads is to play the game to win it, because winning helps you win more."
Where to Watch Live
Italy vs Ireland is scheduled for a 9 p.m. local time (12.30 a.m. IST, 8 p.m. BST, 3 p.m. ET) start. The TV and live streaming information you need is below.
UK and Ireland: TV: ITV1. Live Streaming: ITV Hub.
Italy: TV: Rai Uno and Sky Sport 1 Italia. Live Streaming: Sky Go Italia.
Russia: TV: TV: Russia 1 and NTV Sport.
France: TV: Bein Sports. Live Streaming: Bein Sports Connect.
Germany: TV: ZDF and ORF.
USA: TV: ESPN and ESPN 3. Live Streaming: Watch ESPN.
Canada: TV: TSN and RDS. Live Streaming: TSN TV.
Australia: TV: Bein Sports and SBS One. Live Streaming: Bein Sports Connect.
China and Hong Kong: TV: CCTV and LeTV.
Thailand: TV: Channel 3.
Singapore: TV: Eleven Singapore and Singtel. Live Streaming: Singtel Go.
Malaysia: TV: Astro.
Latin America: TV: DirecTV.
Middle East and North Africa: TV: Bein Max 2 and Bein Max 3. Live Streaming: Bein SportsConnect.
South Africa and Sub Saharan Africa: TV: SuperSport 3. Live Streaming: SuperSport