Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Italy vs Ireland Euro 2016 Football Match Preview And Prediction - June 23, 2016


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Italy are already through as group winners and might choose to rest a few players, but Ireland need to win by two goals and hope Sweden beat Belgium to have a chance of finishing second. Can they do it?

Ewan MacKenna (Ireland) and Mina Rzouki (Italy) preview the Group E game.

What's at stake here?

Ewan MacKenna: The optimist says a few ounces of respect courtesy of a draw; the realist says the salvation of some pride with a hard-fought defeat against an Italian second-string that should still beat Ireland in the way Belgium did. Almost nobody is predicting victory and, sadly for Martin O'Neill's side, it is that which is required to advance. To use a poker metaphor: Ireland are nearly out of chips but still have to go all-in with a terrible hand.

Mina Rzouki: Italy have topped their group and already qualified to the next stage of the competition. As such, their match against Ireland will be little more than an opportunity to experiment, allowing bench players a chance to impress.

Eight or nine changes will be made to the side that defeated Sweden. While Italy do not possess star players, they do boast depth, and whoever plays will be determined to succeed. If Ireland are expecting to face a relaxed Italian side, they will be disappointed. Antonio Conte, in the words of Marco Parolo, "has been hammering the Ireland match into us since the day after we beat Sweden."

Key Battle

EM: Ireland's spirit versus Italy's ability

So much is up in the air in terms of tactics and personnel. Chasing three points, Ireland would like to go with two strikers and Wes Hoolahan playing behind them. However, that depends on the availability of Jon Walters -- who missed the last game through injury -- along with the risk-over-reward factor when it comes to being overrun in the middle.

As for Italy, reports suggest Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Gianluigi Buffon will be rested due to their accumulation of yellow cards, while Antonio Candreva, Daniele De Rossi and the strikers might also get a day of recovery on the bench. Indeed, there's even talk manager Antonio Conte will go to 4-4-2, as it will allow him to rest more players.

But strategies aside, Ireland just can't match up in terms of talent. Thus, while immeasurable and a little flighty, it will come down to how much they're hurting and how much they want to make amends. The only problem is, while an improvement is expected, their 3-0 defeat against Belgium showed that when spirit comes up against ability, there's usually only one winner.

MR: Stephan El Shaarawy vs. Seamus Coleman

Both of these sides are comfortable with exploiting width to stretch defences and create attacking plays. Italy look likely to deploy the attack-minded Stephan El Shaarawy on the left for this purpose, setting up a nice battle between him and one of the Republic of Ireland's better performers in Seamus Coleman.

There is nothing El Shaarawy loves more than cutting inside to strike the ball, and while he has the potential to cause problems, he could leave space for Coleman to counter. It remains to be seen who handles the dual responsibilities of their role better.

Star Man

EM: Shane Long

It's not certain if Shane Long will be in more mental or physical pain after the thankless task of playing as a lone striker in game two, combined with the endless stream of inaccurate long balls clear. It was not his fault, but he'll still be disappointed with his tournament so far, having entered in great form, but having come nowhere close to a goal. He can only hope he'll have support given the win-or-go-home nature of this game, although pushing players forward will mean miracles will be needed in midfield to get on the ball, hold possession and get him into good positions.

MR: Simone Zaza

Simone Zaza was the man who came on as a substitute against Sweden to provide the assist that led to the winning goal. A combative player who uses a team's fatigue against them, fighting until they surrender, he scored five Serie A goals for Juventus in 2015-16, four of which came after being introduced a substitute.

Many argue the forward is not as effective when played from the start, but he is sure to cause havoc against Ireland, tiring out a back line that has succumbed to pressure and momentary lapses of concentration in the past. He will either manage to score or create the right circumstances for another last-minute goal.

Prediction

EM: Italy 2-1 Ireland, meaning au revoir. Helped by Italy's B team and mindset, O'Neill's side will put in a better performance but still go out, once again raising urgent questions around how the Irish FA produce players and the antiquated systems in place.

MR: With key defenders offered a chance to rest in a game that doesn't have to result in victory for the Italians, a 1-1 result sounds reasonable.

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