Brady celebrates his winner. Chris Radburn

Shake it up, Brady! Late winner sends Ireland into Euro 2016 last 16 on a remarkable night in Lille

The Boys in Green earned one of the great victories to set up a meeting with hosts France tonight.



- Ben Blake reports from the Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille

THE IRISH AREN’T going home just yet.

Robbie Brady’s 85th-minute header sent Lille’s Stade Pierre-Mauroy into a frenzy as Ireland capped a magnificent performance with three points to send them into the last 16 of Euro 2016.

Needing three points to line up a meeting with hosts France in Lyon on Sunday, Martin O’Neill’s side were vastly-improved as they bossed their opponents for large spells before grabbing a crucial goal with full-time closing in.

Italy v Republic of Ireland - UEFA Euro 2016 - Group E - Stade Pierre Mauroy Ireland's starting XI. Chris Radburn Chris Radburn

O’Neill had been expected to make changes after the demoralising defeat to Belgium, and his team saw four changes in personnel with captain John O’Shea and Ciaran Clark dropping out of the centre of defence for Richard Keogh and Shane Duffy.

Glenn Whelan was also benched but James McCarthy kept his place and Daryl Murphy came in for Wes Hoolahan as a lone striker, with Shane Long moved out to the right of an attacking three in a 4-2-3-1.

With Italy already assured top spot in Group E, opposite number Antonio Conte made eight switches to his starting line-up but stuck with the 3-5-2 system that has served him well.

Under the closed roof on a humid night, we were treated to a frantic first half in which Ireland showed a real hunger to take the game to their opponents.

Full-blooded challenges were put in from stand-in skipper Seamus Coleman, McCarthy and Jeff Hendrick — who was lucky to escape an early yellow card after catching Alessandro Florenzi.

Derby County midfielder Hendrick, who was excellent throughout, also came agonisingly close to putting Ireland ahead on nine minutes when he found space to attack before cutting inside of Thiago Motta and seeing his strike whistle just past the post.

Murphy was next to try his luck and the striker was denied his first international goal when Salvatore Sirigu tipped over his powerful header from a Brady corner.

The Boys in Green continued to dominate and the game was 42 minutes old when Italy had their first chance of note — Ciro Immobile flashing an effort just wide.

In the closing moments of the half, referee Ovidiu Hategan denied Ireland a clear penalty when Federico Bernardeschi came through the back of McClean. The Romanian appeared to have a good sight of the incident, but waved away claims.

Richard Keogh had to make a last-ditch interception on the stroke of half-time, and O’Neill went into the break the far happier of the two managers.

James McClean appeals for a penalty McClean protests after being bundled to the ground inside the Italian box. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Conte will have given his players a stern talking to after a lacklustre 45-plus minutes and it was the Azzurri who came closest just after the restart.

Mattia De Sciglio whipped in a cross to Simone Zaza and the Juventus striker volleyed a metre too high.

However, Ireland weren’t about to fade and, after a patient build-up involving a terrific passage of play, Murphy held up the ball and drilled it towards the front post.

Sirigu palmed out and the loose ball fell to the onrushing Coleman, whose low drive was blocked by Ogbonna.

Italy brought on Manchester United’s Matteo Darmian for Bernardeschi on the hour mark but they continued to allow Ireland possession with Brady, Hendrick and McCarthy thriving in midfield.

While Wes Hoolahan was introduced for the final 13 minutes, it was another little substitute in Napoli attacker Lorenzo Insigne, only on the pitch, who came close next– striking the upright with a curling shot from the edge of the box.

Hoolahan was gifted a golden chance to hand Ireland the lead, but Sirigu got down to save the tame effort.

However, he made up for it moments later with an inch-perfect cross for Brady to head in the all-important winner.

Bring on France.

ITALY: Sirigu; Barzagli, Bonucci (c), Ogbonna; Bernardeschi (Darmien 60), Sturaro, Motta, Florenzi, De Sciligio (El Shaarawy 81); Zaza, Immobile (Insigne 75).

IRELAND: Randolph; Coleman (c), Keogh, Duffy, Ward; McClean, Hendrick, McCarthy (Hoolahan 77), Brady; Long (Quinn 86), Murphy (McGeady 70).

Ireland ring in the changes for final Euro 2016 group match with Italy

LIVE: Ireland v Italy, Euro 2016


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