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Published: 09:08 | 23/6/16

O'Neill: We deserved it

Martin O'Neill believes the Republic of Ireland deserved to qualify for the knockout stages of Euro 2016 after a superb display against Italy on Wednesday night.

Ireland created more chances than their opponents in Lille but had to wait for the 85th minute before making the breakthrough thanks to a superbly taken Robbie Brady header.

Victory guarantees Ireland progress into the last-16 of the tournament with hosts France next up for the Boys in Green and O'Neill was fulsome in his praise for his players.

“We deserved it. I think that was a penalty kick in the first half and we felt a wee bit disheartened with that, but the lads picked themselves back up and the whole performance was fantastic," O'Neill told RTE.

“Everyone had a brilliant game. There’s a great old spirit there, spirit alone doesn't get you there, but we have an enormous spirit.

“The players who came in wanted to do well; Shane Duffy, Richard Kehoe - I could go through the whole team because they were all fantastic.

“We played so well against Sweden in the first game and maybe the other (Belgium) game came a bit too quickly, though that doesn’t matter because we didn’t play well enough, but tonight we were absolutely ready.

“To dominate for the amount of time as we did and play as well as we did throughout the 90 minute was fantastic.”

“We thought Wes (Hoolahan) was going to do it when he spurned that chance. Then Robbie Brady, who is a fantastic player…

“I don’t think he was ever going to miss - he went in as bravely as anything, it didn’t matter if he was going to get a bit of goalkeeper, and he deserved it and the team deserved it.

“The fans were just unbelievable - they kept us going throughout the evening and I think the players kept the fans going. It was a combination of both.”

The match winner struggled for words at the final whistle, describing it as the best feeling in the world.

“I don’t know what to say - my head isn’t really working,” Brady said. “What a moment for everyone involved. We said we had a job to do for everyone who had come here - we said we were going to get to the last 16 and then go again.

“Look around and see what it means to people. I grew up dreaming about this and to do it in front of my family is the best feeling in the world.

“We’ve done it again,” he said. “We roll on - the next game is Sunday and we need to regroup and go again, but what a fantastic night.”

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