Irish must ‘go out blazing if they can’

Martin O’Neill has urged the Republic of Ireland to go out with all guns blazing if they cannot extend their Euro 2016 adventure by dumping hosts France out of the competition.

Ireland produced their best performance for years on Wednesday night to beat Italy 1-0 and secure their passage to the last 16, but manager O’Neill knows they will have to be equally good, if not better, to upset one of the favourites to lift the trophy on July 10.

But as they prepare for their date with destiny at the Stade de Lyon on Sunday, the 64-year-old has insisted he will send out his team to win the game and not to simply try to stay in it.

O’Neill said: “I have spent my time in the last two-odd years here in qualification sending out what I would consider adventurous teams to win games.

“We played a very adventurous game against Sweden, we weren’t allowed to play well against Belgium and that can happen because they are a top-class side.

“They are rated one or two in the world at the moment, so that might tell you something about them and they are entitled to be able to pass it past us occasionally.

“In the game against Italy, we knew needed some extra energy in the team. We have some older players playing, certainly in their 30s, so we had to get that energy into the side, which we did – and not only did we have that energy, we played brilliantly in the match, so we have those things to look forward to.

“But I don’t think you would want to head out of the competition meekly, that’s the most important thing. You want to go out blazing if you can and we want to try to stay in it because we feel we can do something.”

That said, O’Neill has prepared his players, who have had three days fewer to recover from their exertions than their opponents, for a long and gruelling afternoon in Lyon if that is what it takes, and that has even extended to practising for a penalty shoot-out.

However, the European Cup winner knows putting the ball in the net from 12 yards on the training ground is a very different prospect to trying to do it in front of 59,000 people with a quarter-final place in the European Championships at stake.

O’Neill said: “We have practised the penalties pretty well consistently, but in all honesty, replicating that on the training ground where all players want to take the penalties – all of them, including he goalkeepers, everybody wants to take a penalty.

“I wonder what it will be like if we do get to a shoot-out? That might be slightly different.

“I have seen great players in the past, great players in the past, really great players out on the field when it has comer top penalty shoot-outs in European Cup finals down tools and don’t take them.

“I think that it will depend obviously on who is on the pitch at the time if it comes to that, but we have done as much as we possibly can in that aspect.”

That said, O’Neill has seen enough to know who would not be stepping up.

He said with a smile: “If we go get to penalties, there are at least three players I know who won’t take them who haven’t been able to hit the target too often. I shall not name them, but if they don’t come in the first 11, you will have a fair idea yourselves.”

O’Neill revealed full-back Stephen Ward, who took a kick to the ankle against Italy, is improving but remains a doubt. Striker Jonathan Walters’ Achilles problem is improving by the day.