In their final fixture in group play, gli Azzurri faced off against the Republic of Ireland (because there are two Irelands in this tournament!) Italy had already advanced to the round of 16, winning their group with a game to spare, but Republic of Ireland, with the next round on the line, were playing to keep their tournament hopes alive, and fought hard from the opening minutes of the match.
Antonio Conte gave a day off to some key players like Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Daniele De Rossi and made a lot of changes in his starting XI. For the first time in this tournament, Milan’s Mattia De Sciglio earned the starting role on the left wing, while Federico Bernardeschi made his debut on the right in Conte’s 3-5-2, and Angelo Ogbonna took Chiellini’s place as center-back. This new tactical disposition didn’t pay off in the first half. Ireland’s aggressiveness caused a lot of problems for the Azzurri, who were saved by Salvatore Sirigu on multiple occasions.
The first 20 minutes of the second half weren’t much better than the first 45, save for a great opportunity by Simone Zaza, whose shot went just over the crossbar. Italy played like this year’s Milan, misplacing what should have been easy passes and leaving their opponents free to do whatever they wanted. Ireland's physicality presented the greatest obstacle for the Azzurri, who were repeatedly muscled off the ball, with the boys in green dominating possession throughout.
Lorenzo Insigne came on for Ciro Immobile and almost immediately created the best opportunity of the match for the Azzurri, but his shot hit the the woodwork. Napoli’s pint-sized powerhouse elevated Italy's play, so Conte continued with his tactical experiments, replacing De Sciglio, who had played a solid match, in favor of Stephan El Shaarawy and a hyper-offensive setup. Again, this gamble came to nothing for gli Azzurri, who, despite Sirigu's heroics, allowed Robbie Brady to score the game-winner with a great header at minute 85. (Yup, another late goal. Just tune in after the 80th minute at any point in this competition and you should be fine.)
This match was meaningless for the Azzurri, since they clinched the group after their win over Sweden, but this loss will surely give them extra motivation for their next game against Spain on Monday: