Brady bunch keep the dream alive late winner
Rep of Ireland 1 Italy 0
Robbie Brady rekindled memories of 1994 when he headed the Republic of Ireland into a dramatic 1-0 victory over Italy to book a dream Euro 2016 showdown with hosts France on Sunday.
Brady struck with just five minutes remaining to serve up a repeat of the famous night at the Giants Stadium in New Jersey 22 years ago when Jack Charlton's men humbled the Italians.
It was no more than the Republic deserved after dominating against the much-changed Group E winners, and they might have won even more comfortably had Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan awarded what looked like a clear penalty for Federico Bernardeschi's challenge on James McClean as the first half drew to a close.
Match-winner Brady admitted it was a dream come true.
"I am lost for words, emotional. It is unbelievable," he said. "I grew up waiting to play on this stage since I was a little kid, so to go and do it in front of my family is the best feeling in the world. We said we were going to do a job for everyone out here and we did it, we made history."
Midfielder James McClean from Londonderry was also emotional afterwards.
"You can't put it into words. The passion; there are grown men crying with complete love for a country. It is quite remarkable," he said.
"We knew it was win or bust and we gave it everything and we left nothing on the field."
On a glorious night under the roof at the Stade Pierre Mauroy in Lille, a first win at the Euros since they beat England in 1988 and a first at a major tournament since they saw off Saudi Arabia at the 2002 World Cup finals wrote a new chapter in Irish football history to the clear delight of management duo Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane.
For all an Italy side featuring eight changes from the one which started against Sweden at the weekend looked confident in possession, it was the Republic who made most of the running, and the fact that they did not return to the dressing room at half-time with a lead was a travesty.
Midfielder Jeff Hendrick, back to the kind of form which saw him terrorise Sweden earlier in the competition, came within inches of the opening goal with a rising ninth-minute piledriver which flew inches wide.
Daryl Murphy went just as close 12 minutes later when he met Brady's corner with a powerful header which goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu tipped over, and Shane Duffy headed wide at the back post from another Brady cross with striker Shane Long perhaps better placed behind him. The game thundered towards the interval at break-neck speed and Ireland keeper Darren Randolph, who did not have a first-half save to make, would have done had Ciro Immobile's 43rd-minute snapshot been a foot closer to his right-hand post.
But the half ended in controversy when McClean appeared to be barged to the ground inside the penalty area by Bernardeschi, only to see Mr Hategan wave away his appeals.
The Republic knew they had to throw everything they had at Italy and they were always likely to leave space in behind as they pressed, and they were served with a 53rd-minute warning when striker Simone Zaza volleyed just over from Mattia de Sciglio's left-wing cross.
But Ireland were relentless in their pursuit of the goal they craved and skipper Seamus Coleman was unfortunate to see his goal-bound 57th-minute effort catch defender Angelo Ogbonna's heel and run safe.
Their chance looked to have gone when substitute Wes Hoolahan passed up a chance to give them the lead with six minutes remaining, shooting straight at Sirigu when clean through on goal.
But he made amends within seconds when he teased the ball over the top of the Italian defence and Brady got their before Sirigu and headed past him to spark delirious celebrations.
Italy: Sirigu, Barzagli, Bonucci, Ogbonna, Bernardeschi (Darmian 60), Sturaro, Thiago Motta, Florenzi, De Sciglio (El Shaarawy 81), Zaza, Immobile (Insigne 74). Subs Not Used: Buffon, Chiellini, Candreva, Pelle, De Rossi, Eder, Parolo, Giaccherini, Marchetti. Booked: Sirigu, Barzagli, Zaza, Insigne.
Rep of Ireland: Randolph, Coleman, Duffy, Keogh, Ward, Hendrick, McClean, McCarthy (Hoolahan 77), Brady, Long (Quinn 90), Murphy (McGeady 70). Subs Not Used: Westwood, Clark, O'Shea, Whelan, Keane, Walters, Christie, Meyler, Given. Booked: Long, Ward.
Goals: Brady 85.
Referee: Ovidiu Alin Hategan, (Romania).