Five changes Martin O'Neill should make for Ireland-Italy

David Maher, Sportsfile
The Boys in Green can progress to the knockout stage with a win over Antonio Conte's side, but O'Neill must be brave to seal progress


So far at Euro 2016, Martin O'Neill's Republic of Ireland have lived up to expectations, playing conservatively to pick up just one point from two games. The Boys in Green battled to draw with Sweden failing to kill off a game despite some good chances, before returning to type with a route-one flavoured showing against Belgium, with the Red Devils outclassing Ireland all over the pitch in a 3-0 drubbing.

Ireland teeter on the edge of elimination, needing a win against Italy, but having beaten Germany during the qualifying campaign, have previously proven they are capable of a shock result against higher ranked opponents. Having already secured top spot in Group E, Antonio Conte has already admitted that he will be making wholesale changes to his side for the clash with the Irish. O'Neill has utilised just 15 players so far at Euro 2016, but needs to be more adventurous if the Boys in Green are to stand any chance of taking third spot and securing a place in the knockout stage.


Much has been made of the fact that Ipswich Town striker Daryl Murphy has yet to score for his country despite playing in 21 internationals. However, despite his lack of guile in front of goal, O'Neill trusted the 33-year-old during qualifying, giving Murphy starts against Germany and playoff opponents Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Against Belgium, lone striker Shane Long was isolated up front, forced to win long balls with little or no support. Murphy will give Ireland another out, using his height and strength to cause problems for the Italian defence, and should win knock-downs for Long to run on to.


When O'Neill announced his final 23-man panel for the European Championship, there were just two surprises in the squad. Keiren Westwood took the place of David Forde, who had started in goal at the beginning of the campaign, while Shane Duffy was taken after impressing in pre-tournament friendlies.

The Blackburn Rovers centre-back has yet to play a minute of competitive international football, but there was little point in bringing him if O'Neill is not confident in his abilities. The 24-year-old stands at 6 foot 4 inches tall, and provides a real threat from set pieces.

In a game that could be decided by the slimmest of margins, Duffy's height could prove crucial.


One thing Ireland lacked in their first two group games was an injection of speed out wide. Shane Long's speed is a real danger for opposing defenders, but it is wasted out wide when he is forced to chase the ball into the corners.

James McClean has been introduced as a substitute in both matches, but could readily start the third game to offer pace down the left wing. The West Bromwich Albion wideman has linked up well with Robbie Brady in the past, and the duo can provide an excellent overlapping threat against Italy's sluggish defence.


After much success with a diamond midfield against Sweden, O'Neill switched to a 4-4-1-1 against Belgium, and saw his team cede a lot of possession, inviting their opponents on to them. As a result, Long and Wes Hoolahan did not see enough of the action when Ireland did win the ball back, meaning the Norwich City midfielder could not make much of an impact.

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The 34-year-old was named man of the match against Sweden, scoring a goal and pulling the strings in midfield, and is capable of doing the same against Italy. Ireland need to keep better control of possession, play the ball along the ground, and give Hoolahan the chance to live up to his 'Irish Messi' nickname.


In the latter half of qualifying, O'Neill repeatedly overlooked Ireland's record international goalscorer Robbie Keane. The LA Galaxy striker has scored 67 times for his country, but few disagreed with O'Neill's decision to drop a forward heading towards his 36th birthday.

The Dubliner was called off the bench in both group games so far, but has offered little to the Boys in Green as he looks off the pace. If Ireland are searching for a goal with 10 minutes remaining, there is no player more clinical in the box, but Keane should only be used as a last throw of the dice with the clock winding down.