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The History Boys: Ireland versus Italy

We flick through the archives to see what lessons can be learned from Ireland’s previous encounters with the Azzurri.

Image: ©INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan

1. Try to keep the “gifts” to a minimum

(Italy 3-0 Ireland, 8 December 1970, Florence)

“Champions Italy did not have to work for their expected success against the Republic of Ireland yesterday,” wrote the Irish Independent’s Noel Dunne in his match report on Ireland’s dismal defeat in Florence. “They had it handed to them.”

A debatable penalty, awarded against Shay Brennan for a handball, and some slack defending by centre-half John Dempsey meant that Italy were two goals to the good by half-time without having to work particularly hard for their lead. After that, Mick Meagan’s side were always facing an uphill battle.

Tonight’s game might only be a friendly, but if Ireland are feeling particularly generous again, players of the calibre of Rossi and Pazzini will be more than capable of taking advantage.

2. Switch on from the word go

(Ireland 1-2 Italy, 10 May 1971, Dublin)

Over the last few weeks, it seems that Ireland have developed a taste for grabbing early goals – Northern Ireland, Scotland and Macedonia can all testify to that.

But, when these two sides met in Dublin for a European Championship qualifier in 1971, the Boys in Green weren’t quite as alert in the early stages. While the back four ponderously regrouped, a quick free-kick from Sandro Mazzola allowed Roberto Boninsenga to nip in and head Italy into the lead in the 15th minute.

Let’s hope that this kind of slow start is a thing of the past.

3. #Stayonyourfeet

(Ireland 0-2 Italy, 4 June 1992, Boston)

It goes without saying that it’s much easier to beat a top team such as Italy with eleven men on the pitch.

Packie Bonner dominated the headlines the day after Ireland’s 1992 friendly defeat against the Italians in Foxboro, picking up the first red card of his international career for a trip on Beppe Signori as he hared down on goal.

Alessandro Costacurta slotted the resulting penalty past Bonner’s replacement, Gerry Payton, and Italy coasted to a comfortable 2-0 victory.

4. Don’t be afraid to take the shot on

(Ireland 1-0 Italy, 18 June 1994, New Jersey)

I don’t know if Robbie was re-watching the USA 94 tapes ahead of the game against Macedonia last weekend but as he proved in Skopje – and as Ray Houghton showed in the Giants Stadium 17 years ago – if you don’t buy a ticket, you can’t win the lotto.

5. Don’t give Pirlo the space to shoot

(Ireland 1-2 Italy, 17 August 2005, Dublin)

This is one lesson which should be carried over from the friendly between the two sides in Dublin in 2005: if you give Andrea Pirlo space on the edge of the box, he will punish you.

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6. Italy can be susceptible to late goals

(Italy 1-1 Ireland, 1 April 2009, Bari)

Mr R. Keane won’t be around to go on the hunt for international goal number 52 tonight, but as he proved in Bari in 2009, the Italian defence isn’t always as robust as it should be in the closing stages of games.

As Big Jack would’ve said, if we need a late goal tonight, simply put ‘em under pressure.

7. Close the game out

(Ireland 2-2 Italy, 10 October 2009, Dublin)

Of course, if we do manage to get a last-gasp equaliser or winner this evening, it would be preferable if we didn’t let Italy march straight down the pitch and undo all the hard work.

Sean St. Ledger thought that he had given Ireland a famous victory the last time the sides met. Alberto Gilardino had other ideas.

About the author:

Niall Kelly

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