Europe

Euro 2016: Ray Houghton says confidence key for the Republic of Ireland

Ray Houghton scores against Italy in the 1994 World Cup Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ray Houghton celebrates his winner against Italy in 1994 with Terry Phelan

The Republic of Ireland face a must-win game against Italy to qualify for the next round of Euro 2016.

And, according to one former international who knows what it takes to beat the Italians, confidence is key.

Ray Houghton's looping volley was enough to see off the Azzurri in the 1994 World Cup.

He said Martin O'Neill's men must have the belief they can repeat the feat 22 years on.

The Republic have to win the game after a disappointing 3-0 defeat against Belgium last Saturday.

"You can't change what happened against Belgium," he said.

"We have to go out there and attack. Work hard and put them under pressure. Get on the ball and don't be afraid.

Image caption Ray Houghton said that changes to the Italy team could be a mixed blessing for the Republic

"We have to create more and control possession," he added. "Ultimately, it'll come down to two things - our attitude and theirs."

Italy are already confirmed as group winners and manager Antonio Conte is expected to make up to nine changes for the match against Ireland.

For Houghton, this could be a mixed blessing for the Boys in Green.

"England made six changes on Monday and were flat," he said,

"If Italy make nine changes, that's nine new faces that have not played together much or might not gel straight away.

"But, at the same time, Italy play Spain in the next round and, if I was one of those players, I would want to be in that game.

"I'd want to put down a marker to the manager and show him what I can do to get a chance of playing."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Shane Long and his Republic teammates must win against Italy to stay in Euro 2016

Weather conditions at Lille's Stade Pierre-Mauroy have been less than ideal and Uefa have said the pitch has been "irreversibly damaged" by rain.

A far cry from 1994 when Ray Houghton and his teammates took on a world-class Italian side in the heat of Giants Stadium, New York.

"It was a very warm day, the weather was quite hot and it didn't suit the Irish fans too much," recalled Houghton, who won 73 caps for the Republic.

"I'd done a lot of training and used a sauna a lot in the lead up, so I didn't find it too much of a problem.

"I'd played in Singapore before and that heat burned the back of your throat. In New York, it didn't bother me too much."

Apart from the challenge of the heat, Ireland also faced an Italy team that were among the favourites to win the tournament and featured stars such as Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini and Roberto Baggio.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption 'I thought, just hit it. Why not?' said Ray Houghton on that goal against Italy in 1994

"We knew it would be a big game," said Houghton. "We played Italy in the 1990 World Cup four years earlier and, if you look through their team from that day, there wasn't many who were still playing in 1994.

"If you looked at our team that day a huge percentage of players were still playing in 1994. Italy have always been a great tournament team."

Despite those odds, it took just 11 minutes for the Republic to take the lead with a goal that has since become immortalised in Irish football history.

"It was a long punt up the field. Baresi got his head on it, but it wasn't a great header," said Houghton.

"I was able to collect it on my chest and I thought, 'just hit it'. Why not? It's the World Cup.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ray Houghton also scored the winner when the Republic played England at Euro '88

"I looked at it initially and thought it was going over the bar. Then another look: 'Oh, it's going in...'

"Next thing, Terry Phelan and Roy Keane are over celebrating with me. That's the magic of football."

Despite an Italian onslaught for the next 79 minutes, Houghton said the win was never in doubt.

"It wasn't like 1988 against England, when we were hanging on," said Houghton, recalling the European Championship win in which he also scored the winner.

"England put us under more pressure and created changes, but Italy didn't create that much.

"We had big Paul (McGrath) at the back, Roy (Keane), John (Sheridan) and Andy (Townsend) in the middle performed really well.

"We ran ourselves into the ground. I was off by the end, but I wasn't biting my fingernails. The win felt comfortable."

For Martin O'Neill's men, a similarly huge effort will be required to record another famous victory over Italy on Wednesday.

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