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Published: 22:00 | 22/6/16

Brady strikes to send Ireland into last 16

Boys In Green take deserved victory

Robbie Brady headed an 85th minute winner as Ireland beat Italy 1-0 to set up a last 16 meeting with hosts France in Lyon on Sunday.

Ireland needed to beat Italy, who had already guaranteed first place in Group E with their victories over Belgium and Sweden, to take third place and one of the four best loser spots.

And that they did, in stunning style, with Brady heading home an inch-perfect cross from substitute Wes Hoolahan from the right touchline to secure this historic victory against Antonio Conte's much-fancied side.

And it was a moment of redemption for Hoolahan, who just moments earlier had spurned a golden chance when set free one-on-one in the Italy area, only to shoot straight at goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu.

It was also a moment of vindication for manager Martin O'Neill, who made four changes with John O'Shea, Ciaran Clark, Glenn Whelan and Hoolahan dropped to the bench, with Shane Duffy, Richard Keogh, James McClean and Daryl Murphy all making their first Euro 2016 starts.

Almost immediately, it seemed O'Neill had made the right call as Ireland dominated the early midfield exchanges, with Hendrick, Robbie Brady and James McCarthy outmuscling Thiago Motta, Alessandro Florenzi and Stefano Sturaro in the centre of the park.

Before the match, Italy 1982 World Cup winner and former Ireland assistant manager Marco Tardelli spoke of how he had recommended Derby County midfielder Hendrick to a number of clubs in Serie A, only to be ignored.

But the 24-year-old may need to brace himself for a whole load of mysterious +39 prefixed phone calls in the next couple of weeks, as Italian clubs try and make right their mistake.

For the Dubliner set the tone in midfield with his sharp passing, clever positioning and driving runs that brought to mind Roy Keane in his pomp.

Brady also was a revelation, his touch and vision bringing James McClean and Stephen Ward into the game down the left, while his set-pieces discomfited the Italy centre-back trident of Andrea Barzagli, Leonard Bonucci and Angelo Ogbonna.

And the Dubliner's 21st minute corner almost set up Daryl Murphy's first international goal, only for Sirigu to make a sharp tipover save.

Italy barely had a sight of goal until the 42nd minute, when a Ciro Immobile effort from 25 yards had Darren Randolph in the Ireland goal briefly scrambling across his six-yard box.

Ireland will feel they were a denied a clear penalty a minute later, when Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan ruled that Federico Bernardeschi's all-arms-and-elbows challenge on McClean was fair.

Ireland chances in the second half were very much of the “half” variety after that buoyant opening 45 minutes, and Simone Zaza almost gave Italy a shock lead on 54 minutes with a snap volley from the edge of the six-yard box.

Ireland still dominated possession even if the chances were becoming less and less clear cut, with Sirigu a spectator since the 21st minute.

But you allow Italy space on the counter at your peril, and all that possession and domination could have been for nothing had substitute Lorenzo Insigne scored with a 78th minute effort that cracked off the post.

But it didn't, and the stage was set for Hoolahan and Brady to net the goal that would send the Irish into the last 16 against all the odds.

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