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Ireland beat understrength Italy in Euro

Associated Press Associated Press 22/06/2016 By Eric Willemsen

Ireland advanced to the knockout stages of the European Championship for the first time after it beat a reshuffled Italian side 1-0 on Wednesday.

An 85th minute late goal from Robbie Brady was enough for the spirited Ireland side to secure a place in the round of 16 as one of the best third-place teams.

Their reward - a match against France in Lyon on Sunday.

"It was very special. I am thrilled, it was a great win," Ireland coach Martin O'Neill said.

"We deserved to win. We played some phenomenal stuff. There wasn't a player in the Irish shirt that didn't play heroically."

Italy, which were already assured of top spot in Group E after two-straight group wins, will meet defending champions Spain next in what is potentially the most mouth-watering match of the round of 16.

Brady's goal was just reward for an inspired performance by the Ireland team, which needed to win to get through to the next round.

His goal, which stemmed from a cross by second-half substitute Wes Hoolahan, came just moments after Hoolahan himself had missed a golden chance to put Ireland ahead.

"It's a proud night for myself and fantastic for the team," Brady said. "The lads worked their socks off today. It was the perfect timing for a goal."

Spurred on by its passionate green-clad fans, Ireland tried to drag the Italians into a physical battle almost from the opening whistle. In the first few minutes, there were some crunching tackles, most notably when Jeff Hendrick hit Alessandro Florenzi with a flying tackle.

Ahead of the next round, Italy coach Antonio Conte had left eight regular starters out of his line-up, including goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who has been suffering from a fever over the last few days.

"We conceded when we were on top," Conte said through an interpreter. "It was a very physical match on a barely playable pitch. The pitch did punish us a bit more than them."

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