WILL DYER (@W2Dyer) shares his verdict on the Group E finale between Italy and Ireland from Lille on Wednesday night.
Italy v Republic of Ireland | Wednesday 20.00 | ITV1
Eder’s late winner for Italy against Sweden confirmed their qualification as group winners before any other team in the tournament but the writing was on the wall after they won their first game against group favourites Belgium.
Belgium can still match Italy’s points but the first tiebreaker is head to heads. This now means that Antonio Conte can afford to rest players unlike Roy Hodgson, who did so anyway. Don’t expect the Azzurri to go changing their defensive trio though.
I expect Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli to once again take to the field. They’ve not really been tested yet and Conte will see this game as another confidence builder for his team.
Ireland have only scored five goals against Italy in eight games outside of Dublin dating back to 1970. In seven tournament meetings they hold a W1-D2-L4 record against the Italians and, with Gianluigi Buffon and co. not conceding a goal yet against a much-fancied Belgium team and a Swedish side spearheaded by one of the best strikers in the world, I don’t hold out much hope for them putting one past Gigi.
Belgium beat the Republic 3-0 on Saturday and they deserved the win but the Irish held firm in the first-half and certainly weren’t ‘thrashed’. Only a win will do for the Boys In Greem now, which is a tall order.
We’ve already seen France and England draw 0-0 in their final group games and I wouldn’t be surprised if this one went the same way. Italy don’t have the most scintillating of attacks at Euro 2016 and could be forgiven for taking their foot off the gas here.
I expect Italy will dominate possession but they might lack ambition. Of course there is the chance that they ring the changes and the players coming in will certainly want to impress with the aim of breaking into the starting XI but, there’s not a standout player on the Italian bench to put me off backing the goalless draw here at 6/1.
A slow start is expected then but the later we get into the game and the more desperate the Irish get for a winner the more vulnerable they will become to a sucker-punch.
We’ve seen plenty of teams get picked off late on in this tournament; Bastian Schweinsteiger and Niall McGinn both scored late against the Ukraine when they were pushing for a goal and Italy themselves doubled their lead through Pelle against Belgium in a similar scenario.
The Azzurri have also already recorded a draw half-time/win full-time result against Sweden and I think there’s some value in this outcome repeating itself at 9/2.
There’s also another long-shot that I feel is worth backing here. We are 28 games into the tournament and already we have seen three games finish with their first goal coming after the 80th minute (Spain v Czech Republic, Italy v Sweden and France v Albania).
At average odds of 14/1 that would put you in +14 points worth of profit. Bet365 are offering the same price again on this game. Two of Italy’s three goals have come in this period, let’s hope the late goal trend continues.
Italy v Republic of Ireland – Draw-Italy (9/2 Netbet)
Italy v Republic of Ireland – 0-0 correct score (6/1 Netbet)
Italy v Republic of Ireland – Time of First Goal Brackets: 81–full-time (14/1 Bet365)