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Dublin: 8°C Sunday 29 November 2020

Kilbane: Ireland are man-for-man as good as Italy

The Azzurri are far from world-beaters, according to the ex-Everton and Sunderland man.

Killa Euro 2016 Kilbane was at the Aviva Stadium yesterday for the FAI Junior Cup quarter-final draw. Source: David Maher/SPORTSFILE

KEVIN KILBANE SEES no reason why Ireland should fear Euro 2016 opponents Italy.

The Boys in Green find themselves in Group E this summer where they will meet Sweden in Paris on 13 June. They then take on world number one Belgium in Bordeaux five days later before finishing off against the Azzurri in Lille on 22 June.

And while Kilbane is under no illusions about how difficult it will be to get a result from the Belgians, the former Ireland international claims Martin O’Neill’s men are on a par with the other two nations.

“It’s a difficult one to call but you look at the group, you look at Italy, a big name, but look at their team man-for-man,” the pundit said in Dublin yesterday.

“I’ve covered every single Italy game through the qualifiers and, honest to god, I don’t see any real threat within that side, I really don’t.

“I think man-for-man we’re as good as Italy. It’s a big statement but I think we are.

“Darmian? He’s not as good as Seamus Coleman. Up front, Pelle is not as good as Shane Long. In midfield they’ve got good playes – Verratti is a good player, he would get in most sides in the world – but defensively they’re vulnerable.

“I saw them struggle against Malta and Azerbaijan, and for pace that’s one big thing they’ll struggle against.”

Marco Veratti with Jeff Hendrick Kilbane believes PSG midfielder Marco Verratti, pictured here with Ireland's Jeff Hendrick, as one of Italy's top players. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

The top two and the four best third-placed sides from each group qualify for the knockout stages but Ireland will be favourites to go home early from the new 24-team tournament – just like they did in Poland four years ago.

According to Kilbane, it will be crucial to get a favourable result in the opening game if they are to have any chance to progressing.

“My problem would be if we’ve got to beat Italy in that last game,” he said. “I think they’ll probably do enough just to get a draw so I think we’ve got to beat Sweden.

So I think we’re maybe peaking at the right time. Certainly towards the end of that campaign I think Martin started to get across his ideas, to get his methods across to players and I think they were taking it all on board.

“I am hopeful because I think we’re going to be pinning our hopes on that Sweden game probably in the same way we did Croatia four years ago.

“But Croatia are above and beyond any side, they’re above and beyond Italy and Sweden in that group and they were the so-called lesser team in that group as well.”

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Ben Blake

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