Italy v Ireland
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VERSAILLES • Roy Keane has called on Ireland's players to show some "b***s" in their make-or-break fixture against Italy today, not be afraid to confront their gifted opponents with a taste of their own cynicism and "take them out" if the circumstances demand it.
Ireland must win their final group game if they are to progress to the knockout phase of the European Championship for the first time in their history and, after their traumatic 3-0 defeat by Belgium, cannot afford to hold anything back.
"It's not an impossible mission we're on," Keane, the assistant coach, insisted.
Italy's victory over the Belgians in their opening game was noticeable for the tactical soundness encouraged by coach Antonio Conte, a rigour in defence and a willingness to foul in the right areas of the pitch.
Such an approach might not always conform to the game's niceties, but it has served the Italians well in tournament football and Keane is adamant that the Irish players must follow Italy's example if they are to extend their stay in the competition.
"My advice would be, yeah, take them out," the former Manchester United captain, said. "We saw Italy against Belgium, one of their players jumped all over somebody's back when Belgium were breaking and then they kicked the ball out of play.
"That's where you go back to the Italians - you have to be streetwise in this game. We're not here to make friends, the fans will do that. From a player's point of view, if you smell danger and you think, 'We're in trouble here', then yeah, you do whatever you can to get the right result.
"If that's a foul, then you foul him. It's not a crime. You might get a yellow card, you might even get a red, but your team might win.
"At international level, you need players who are comfortable on the ball and to be brave against Italy. You need to play with courage - and b***s."
IRISH MUST BE BRAVE
At international level, you need players who are comfortable on the ball and to be brave against Italy. You need to play with courage - and b***s.
ROY KEANE, Ireland's assistant coach, on the calibre Irish players should aspire to.
Ireland can take inspiration from one of their finest moments, when, at the 1994 World Cup in the United States, they famously beat Italy 1-0 to claim what remains their only competitive win over the Azzurri.
"It's been done before. It's not an impossible mission," said Keane. "We have beaten the Germans (in qualifying) in the last year. I appreciate the negativity in the last few days but this team have bounced back before and I've no doubt we'll bounce back on Wednesday with a good performance."
Italy coach Conte - whose team have already clinched qualification for the last 16 as group winners - should make sweeping changes to his starting XI with one eye on their last-16 tie against the Group D runners-up at the Stade de France next Monday.
One of those changes is likely to see Salvatore Sirigu start in place of Gianluigi Buffon in the Italy goal, as the latter is one booking away from a suspension and has been struggling with illness.
But Keane warned: "I don't think tactically they'll change from their previous couple of games, just because of the way they're set up.
"Well organised, they clearly love to defend. They've got good options off the bench if they are going to rotate."
If Ireland win, they could still finish second, provided Belgium lose to Sweden in Nice and the Irish overturn their goal-difference deficit to Sweden. Otherwise the best they can hope for is to go through as one of the four best third-placed sides.
THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE