Date: 22nd June 2016 at 11:00am
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The permutations are, for once, simple for the Republic of Ireland – they must defeat Group E winners Italy in Lille on Wednesday night to book their place in the last-16 of EURO 2016.

The Azzurri are uncatchable at the top of the group, given their head-to-head record with second-placed Belgium, following their successive opening wins against the Red Devils and Sweden.

However all three points for Martin O’Neill’s side inside the Stade Pierre-Mauroy will ensure the Boys in Green finish at least third – and four points would guarantee they reach the last-16.

Meanwhile the only way Ireland can finish second in Group E is if they win and Sweden also defeat Belgium in the other fixture tonight – with Ireland’s winning margin at least two goals greater than Sweden’s.

Ireland’s history against Italy reminds fans of one of the country’ finest ever international triumphs, when Jack Charlton’s Green Army defeated the Azzurri in the 1994 World Cup finals thanks to Ray Houghton’s only goal of the game.

The last competitive fixture between these two nations came back at EURO 2012 in Poznan, where goals from Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli sealed a 2-0 win for Cesare Prandelli’s Italy over Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland.

More impressively, the Azzurri are unbeaten in their 12 competitive games under Antonio Conte (W9, D3) – who will manage Premier League side Chelsea ahead of the 2016/17 domestic season. Italy’s last defeat was against Uruguay at the 2014 World Cup.

So despite victory being an uphill task for the Irish, Wednesday night’s tie provides an opportunity for the Boys in Green to advance to the knockout stages of a European Championships for the very first time at their third finals appearance.

But if Italy find the back of the net, history doesn’t bode well for O’Neill’s side, who have never scored more than one goal in a European Championship finals game.

Photo: Marc Atkins / Offside.

Italy have already guaranteed top spot in Group E – Photo: Marc Atkins / Offside.

Team News:

Legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon could miss out for Italy in Lille due to a fever – meaning Salvatore Sirigu may deputise.

Meanwhile forward Antonio Candreva is also likely to miss out on Wednesday night after suffering a hamstring problem in the win over Sweden.

As for Ireland; boss O’Neill is still waiting on the fitness of Jonathan Walters, who sat out last week’s loss to Belgium due to an Achilles injury.

Midfielders Jeff Hendrick, James McCarthy and Glenn Whelan are all one booking away from a suspension.

FIFA World Ranking: Italy – 12th; Republic of Ireland – 33rd
Best European Championship Finish: Italy – Winners (1968); Republic of Ireland – Group Stages (1998, 2012)
Previous Meeting: Italy 0-0 Republic of Ireland – May 31, 2014 (International friendly)
Form: Italy – DLWWWW; Republic of Ireland – WDDLDL
Key Men: Italy – Leonardo Bonucci; Republic of Ireland – Shane Long
Shoot Says: Italy 2-0 Republic of Ireland

 
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