Republic of Ireland can be Lyon kings says coach Roy Keane
Round of 16: France v Republic of Ireland (tomorrow, Lyon, 2pm, live on ITV1 & RTE2)
THE Republic of Ireland go into France’s Lyon den tomorrow with the odds stacked against them.
With only 4,604 of the fans who turned Paris, Bordeaux and Lille into homes from home granted tickets for the 59,000 capacity stadium, and just three days to recharge after their 1-0 win against Italy, the Boys in Green have it all to do against the host nation.
Assistant manager Roy Keane described the situation as “unfair” but said it wouldn’t detract from the Republic’s performance as they bid to play the winners of Iceland versus England in the quarter-finals.
“I am surprised at the number of tickets,” he said.
“I was pretty sure it would be 60/40 or something. But to be so outnumbered, it seems to be unfair, unfair for the supporters who want to get behind their team.”
After the draw against Sweden in their opening Group E game it was obvious that manager Martin O’Neill sent the team out to play for a draw against Belgium.
That plan backfired spectacularly but the Republic looked like a different outfit when it came to the winner-takes-all clash against Italy.
It looks likely that Stephen Ward, who didn’t train yesterday, will miss out tomorrow. However, Jon Walters did train and could see action as a substitute in a do-or-die game Keane feels will suit Ireland.
“We will be ready,” he said.
“It might be a different mentality tomorrow because obviously we are still recovering from the game a couple of nights back.
“But I think we are looking forward to playing the host nation, I think we are looking forward to that.
“I think the mentality is: let’s go.
“I think sometimes when you are playing the group games, it doesn’t suit our mentality. I said that last week: it’s a cup game next week. Let’s go for it.
“There will be a result one way or the other. We will leave nothing behind, I think there is that feeling. We are looking forward to it in a nice way. Not just in turning up.
“I said before we have to try and change the mentality of Irish football. Let’s not be home after a week or two. We have achieved the first part of our challenge – to get out of the group. Now let’s stay here for another two weeks.”
At the 1990 World Cup, David O’Leary scored an unforgettable winner after Packie Bonner had saved from Daniel Timofte as the Republic of Ireland beat Romania in a penalty shoot-out to book a place in the quarter-finals against hosts Italy.
Keane confirmed that Ireland have been practising penalties ahead of tomorrow’s game.
“We have been taking penalties, yeah, at training, for the last two or three weeks,” said Keane.
“So when the training finishes, we have been getting players to take penalties.
“Will that make it easier for the players to score on Sunday? Probably not, but it is a nice habit to get into.”
He added with a smile: “If you said to me now we are going to win on Sunday on penalties? Yeah, let me think about that one. I’ll get back to you on that one.”
Keane feels that the longer the game stays scoreless, the more the pressure will mount on ‘Les Bleus’.
“The expectation is on France to win the game,” he said.
“But I don’t think that would be a big problem for their players because they all play for big clubs and they have played three games already.
“Any time we get in their half we have to put balls in their box. And like any home team there seems to be that extra pressure but we have to go out and put pressure on them.”
With Olivier Giroud misfiring up front, France have struggled to convert chances in this tournament. Dimitri Payet’s wonder goal saw off Romania at the death and it took injury-time strikes from Antoine Griezmann and Payet to kill off dogged Albania. Paul Pogba has been underwhelming in midfield, while the France defence has also come in for criticism.
“You would like to think there is a weakness in any team you play against,” said Keane.
“They are pretty good going forward.
“I am pretty sure if they are looking at our DVDs over the last few months they will probably see weaknesses in our team.
“We were heavily criticised in the Belgium match... probably responded well but it is up to the opposition to deal with any weaknesses we would hopefully identify in France. And we can hopefully take advantage of that.”
With qualification already secured, Les Bleus gave run-outs to a number of squad players in their final group game against Switzerland but manager Didier Deschamps is expected to revert to his first-choice line-up tomorrow.
Meanwhile, for the Republic, since Ward didn’t train yesterday it looks likely that Derby’s Cyrus Christie will come in at left-back with Robbie Brady continuing in midfield, from where he scored the winner against Italy.
Elsewhere, it’s hard to see Martin O’Neill changing the team as Ireland look to prolong what has been a rollercoaster ride up to this point.
Once again they go into this game as underdogs and once again you can’t rule them out tomorrow afternoon.
This side bullied Italy into submission in Lille and will go into the Lyon game confident that another upset is possible. Penalties could decide it. Robbie Brady was the hero against the Azzuri, maybe it’s Darren Randolph’s turn tomorrow.