Odds: Italy 7/5, The Draw 23/10, Republic Of Ireland 11/5
The task facing the Republic of Ireland in their final game of Group E (and most likely Euro 2016) is simple, but no more achievable for its simplicity.
Victory is the only means by which they stand a chance of claiming a spot in the tournament’s knockout rounds and even then a win may not be enough.
Belgium need only avoid defeat at the hands of Sweden to be assured of second position in the section, leaving the Boys in Green with fingers crossed they qualify as one of the four best third-placed teams in the competition.
Even if Martin O’Neill’s side upturn the odds to best Italy, the three goals they shipped during their second-half implosion against the Rode Duivels could see them miss out on group-stage graduation.
Winning and, if possible, winning well, then, is the seemingly impossible brief for the Republic if they are to survive for their fans to fiesta another day in France.
Azzurri manager Antonio Conte’s admission that he will look to rest up to nine players with the knockouts in mind offers something in the way of encouragement.
Veteran central midfielder Daniele de Rossi has been substituted in both games so far and looks one of those more likely to make way against the Irish, not least as he is one of six players in the squad one booking away from suspension.
Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Thiago Motta and Eder are the other card carriers and all have been instrumental to Italy’s 100% start to affairs, with even Motta, twice introduced from the bench, on the pitch for two of their three goals.
However, the team Conte will send out, with West Ham’s former Juventus centre-half Angelo Ogbonna and Roma’s rejuvenated Stephan El Shaarawy thought to be coming in, is still likely to possess the quality to both stifle and sting.
Win, Lose or Draw?
The formbook gives Ireland virtually no chance of chiseling three points from the granite-girdled Italian defence, coming into the game on the back of it’s fourth successive win to nil.
Ogbonna’s arrival alongside Barzagli in the back three in place of either Chiellini or Bonucci isn’t likely to disturb things overly in that regard, given just two seasons ago the pair were playing together in Turin.
Since beating Switzerland 1-0 in the first friendly after they booked their tickets to the Euros, the Republic have gone five games without a victory.
Not only that, but they have scored once or less in five of those six outings, including the last four in succession.
Whether Italy will possess enough going forward or in terms of intensity to land sizeable win odds is another matter entirely.
After watching Swizterland and France going through the motions to draw 0-0 in the first of the group-stage-game-three “meh” matches it’s difficult to have much faith that they will.
Both Italy’s pre-tournament friendlies and each of their group matches have enriched both teams to score – no and under-2.5-goals investors.
Ireland’s aforementioned inability to find the net, combined with their opponents’ stern rearguard will mean they are unlikely to play much part in thwarting either wager this time.
The Azzurri will likely field some hungry-to-impress forward talent, but the overall lack of urgency for Conte’s men along with Ireland’s greater need for victory is expected to stop them cutting loose.
Who will do the damage?
Backers of regular fly in the ointment ‘No Goalscorer’ went home with the readies last time the sides threw down in May 2014 and he may well be primed to go in again.
Ireland have been drawing at half-time in both their matches at the Euros and, expected to struggle bravely but in vain, their final match at the tournament should follow suit.