2016 Ireland – Italy

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Ireland were due to play Italy at 9 o’clock local time that evening and I had hoped to make it to Italy in time for the game. Chatel St. Denis was only 120 km from the Italian border and had the route been totally flat, I could have cycled it. The problem was the last 50 km meant climbing about 2,000m and with such a big load on Travoy, it was too much to attempt in one day even with an early start. Also, I was concerned that I had jinxed Ireland by going to Belgium for their game on Saturday in which they lost 3 – 0, so I thought it might bring the team more luck if I stayed in Switzerland. It certainly worked as Robbie Brady scored with about 6 minutes to go to beat the Italians and qualify for the knockout stage of Euro 2016.

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Hungary 3 – Portugal 3 at Euro 2016. I got back to the campsite in time to see the 2nd half of Portugal vs Hungary. It was quite a game as Portugal launched wave after wave of attacks trying to win the game and secure automatic qualification. I remember tweeting that it was the best game in Euro 2016 so far and didn’t care if Ireland vs Italy was the worst game so long as Ireland won.

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The Ireland – Italy match was on RTE 2 in Ireland and RTS 2 in Switzerland. RTS is a French TV station in Switzerland and they seemed to be showing all the Euro 2016 games as they had broadcast the Hungary- Portugal game earlier that evening. The graphics during the pre-match buildup were very good but I don’t understand the point of having an audience behind the presenter. Sports shows on the Continent often have an audience but they are normally seated in the background or to the side. But on Swiss TV, the audience of what looked like mostly schoolgirls were seated right behind the presenter. What they were doing there I have no idea. No-one from the audience was asked any questions during the whole broadcast and the girls didn’t seem all that interested in the game.

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3 changes to the Ireland team for the game against Italy.  Martin O’Neill swung the axe to the Irish defence after the heavy defeat to Belgium and dropped his captain John O’Shea as well as Ciaran Clark replacing them with Richard Keough and Shane Duffy. Glenn Whelan was also dropped and replaced by Daryl Murphy for extra firepower up front for a game we had to score in to qualify for the next round.

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The game was being played at the Stade Pierre Mauroy stadium in Lille. Ireland needed to win their game against Italy or they were out. But fortunately, Italy had already won their first 2 games and were guaranteed to top the group. So Antonio Conte, the Italian manager, picked a weakened team for their clash with Ireland. This explains why we dominated the first half and nearly scored on 2 or 3 occasions.

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Jeff Hendrick came closest to scoring during the first half. Shane Duffy also came close with a header. During the first half, Ireland dominated and Italy created very little.

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Half time analysis on Swiss TV. RTS only had one pundit in the studio but at half time he praised the Irish for their performance but also highlighted the defensive set-up that the Italians had adopted.

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Inzaghe hits the post. But at half-time, the Italian manager, Antonio Conte made some changes and the Italians were much more of a threat in the 2nd half. Inzaghe then hit the post and if anyone looked like scoring, it was the Italians.

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Great chance for Hoolahan. But then with 10 minutes to go, Wes Hoolahan robbed an Italian defender and was clean through on goal only for Sirigu to save his weak shot.

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Robbie Brady scores for Ireland. I thought that that after Wes missed when clean through on the Italian goal, that our chance gone but just a minute or 2 later, he crossed for Robbie Brady to head into the net. Robbie rarely scores headers and he was fortunate Sirigu tried to punch the ball clear as it would have been an easy save had the goalkeeper stayed on his line.

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Brady beats Sirigu to the cross and scores to send Ireland through. It was Robbie’s fifth goal for Ireland but it is doubtful he will ever score as important a goal in the rest of his career. With only 6 minutes left on the clock, Ireland were staring elimination in the face but Robbie’s header changed everything utterly. At almost the same time; 800 km away in Nice, Nainggolan scored for Belgium against Sweden. Meanwhile, in Lille, Ireland were stubbornly defending their lead and did enough to hold on for a memorable victory.

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Full time in the Ireland – Italy game. The stadium in Lille seemed to be mostly Irish fans and there was a huge cheer when the referee blew the final whistle. As both the Ireland and Belgium games finished 1 – 0, it meant Ireland finished 3rd in the group.

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Group E table. By finishing 3rd in Group E, Ireland and would face France in the next round while Belgium would play Hungary. Italy despite winning the group would face the toughest game in the Round of 16 against Spain. RTS were joined by a 2nd pundit for their post match analysis. He had been watching the Belgium Sweden game and RTS showed highlights from that game after discussing the Ireland Italy game. The Apres match show only went on for about 15 minutes after the game and they included a clip from an Icelandic commentator describing Iceland’s 2nd goal during their 2-1 victory over Austria earlier that evening. It had been quite a day for both Iceland and Ireland and one that neither country will ever forget.

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Tweets after Ireland beat Italy 1-0. I remember tweeting after the game that by staying in Switzerland, I just knew Ireland would beat Italy. But I now faced a dilemna. Because their next game was against France, I couldn’t go to France or else I would jinx Ireland again, just like I had done in Belgium. I had hoped to make it to the French border on Saturday but with the game on Sunday, it would now be Monday at the earliest before I got to France.

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Draw for Euro 2016 Round of 16. I had planned to climb the Petit St Bernard into France and the nearest campsite in Italy to France was located in La Thuile, about 10 km from the border. So I decided to watch the Ireland – France game there at an altitude of 1,400m higher than anywhere in Ireland. This would also give me time to get my bike looked at in Aigle on Thursday morning and then go to Martigny before climbing Grand St Bernard into Italy on Friday.

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