This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.
OK
Dublin: 16 °C Saturday 17 August, 2019
Advertisement

Do Ireland stick or twist for France showdown? Here's the team we'd pick

Keeping faith with a winning team could help gain momentum but manager Martin O’Neill may have to make a couple of changes for Sunday’s Euro 2016 last-16 encounter.

The Ireland players after Brady's goal earlier this week.
The Ireland players after Brady's goal earlier this week.
Image: Geert Vanden Wijngaert

- Ben Blake reports from Versailles

IT’S SAFE TO safe that Martin O’Neill stuck his neck out with some bold calls for the most important game of his career as Ireland manager on Wednesday night.

Needing to win the game in order to continue their involvement at Euro 2016, the Derryman took a risk by making four big changes to his starting line-up for the clash with Italy in Lille.

Out dropped his central defensive pairing of captain John O’Shea and Ciaran Clark to be replaced by the relatively inexperienced Shane Duffy alongside Richard Keogh.

Many expected James McCarthy to be left out after a poor showing in the defeat to Belgium, but O’Neill sprung a surprise by keeping faith with the Everton man and replacing Glenn Whelan with James McClean, meaning Robbie Brady moved into a more central role in midfield.

Man-of-the-match against Sweden, Wes Hoolahan was also demoted to the bench in place of striker Daryl Murphy, who was still waiting for his first international goal in 21 appearances.

So, there were wholesale changes made in key areas and ones which would undoubtedly have been called into question had they backfired and Ireland exited the tournament with a whimper.

The evening didn’t quite pan out that way, however, as O’Neill played his hand brilliantly — getting his selection, tactics and substitutions all spot on to produce one of the country’s great sporting occasions.

With Italy content to stand off and allow their opponents time in midfield, Ireland took the initiative and went on the front foot in the knowledge that they would need to score at least once to qualify for the knockout stages.

Their defence looked solid too. Duffy put in a commanding display and stand-in skipper Seamus Coleman rallied the troops, but you would have struggled to find fault with any of the back five (including goalkeeper Darren Randolph).

The midfield trio excelled with McCarthy getting about the centre of the park to make timely tackles and interceptions, while Brady and Hendrick both played out of their skin.

McClean worked his socks off in defence and attack on the left wing and, coming in from the opposite flank, Shane Long pressurised the Italians and looked to support Daryl Murphy, who led the line smartly and held up the ball well despite not being rewarded with that elusive goal.

Even the second half changes came off as the much-maligned Aiden McGeady brought fresh impetus in attack and Wes Hoolahan made amends for wasting a guilt-edged opportunity by sending in a fabulous cross for Brady to head past Salvatore Sirigu with time running out.

The result has given this team a new lease of life and just four days to prepare for an even greater challenge in the shape of host nation France, with a place in the quarter-finals the reward up for grabs.

Some have been arguing in the past couple of days that O’Neill must stick with the same XI as it’s a winning side and they can gather momentum thanks to the confidence-boosting victory.

However, France offer a different proposition altogether with a world class midfield including N’Golo Kante, Paul Pogba, Yohan Cabaye and Blaise Matuidi, who provide cover for their attacking talents — whether manager Didier Deschamps opts for Dimitri Payet, Antoine Griezmann, Anthony Martial or Kingsley Coman behind striker Olivier Giroud.

Just like after the draw with Sweden, he may well be forced into at least one switch. Stephen Ward was on the receiving end of a late challenge from Federico Bernardeschi in the first half and played on but left the Stade Pierre-Mauroy with a badly-swollen ankle.

He has yet to train since the match and will almost certainly miss tomorrow’s tie — although we await to see if he has any involvement in today’s session in Lyon.

Italy v Republic of Ireland - UEFA Euro 2016 - Group E - Stade Pierre Mauroy Decisions: Do you play Brady at full-back or in midfield? Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

That does cause a selection dilemma in itself as there are limited options to replace him. Sure, Brady is currently first choice left full-back but the Dubliner has shown that he can offer so much more either as a left-sided midfielder or more centrally.

Using Derby County’s Cyrus Christie is another alternative but, despite proving a usual attacking outlet going forward there are question marks over the defensive side of his game and it would be an enormous occasion to throw a man with five caps into.

And while a case could also be made for moving one of the centre-backs such as Ciaran Clark out there, it’s another significant gamble.

If Brady was to revert back to full-back, it would open up a slot in the midfield. The ever-reliable Glenn Whelan can count himself unlucky to have missed out during the week, but we’ve seen all too often that playing him and McCarthy together doesn’t work as they effectively do the same job.

So a recall for Hoolahan looks the best bet. He lacks the speed and physicality of Brady, but can offer creativity in abundance, the ability to hold onto possession in tight spaces and bags of work.

Walters continues to edge closer to full fitness everyday and could possibly be an option to replace Murphy off the bench, which would allow Long to move into his natural position up front late on and test the French back four with pace.

What do you think of the team and who would you select to face France? 

Ireland team France

Listen to The42′s Ben Blake on the 98FM Euro 2016 Daily podcast throughout the tournament 

‘Media are trying to make a big thing that Ireland are out for revenge but it’s not about that’

Keane: 4,500 tickets for Ireland fans seems a bit unfair but we just have to roll our sleeves 

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article
  •  

About the author:

Ben Blake

Read next:

COMMENTS (9)