Roy Keane has told the Republic of Ireland’s players to be prepared to “take out” an opponent if they need to in their do-or-die Euro 2016 battle with Italy.
The Republic face the Group E winners in Lille on Wednesday evening knowing anything less than victory will end their participation in the tournament in the wake of Saturday’s 3-0 defeat to Belgium.
It was the nature of that reverse which so exercised assistant manager Keane, with missed tackles by James McCarthy and Ciaran Clark contributing to both Romelu Lukaku’s goals.
The former Ireland skipper has called for drastic action to prevent a repeat, and wants the players to be more “streetwise”.
Keane said: “My advice would probably be, yes, take him out. We saw Italy do it against Belgium – a player did it on the halfway line and got a yellow card. He literally jumped all over someone’s back when Belgium were breaking, and then he kicked the ball out of play.
“You have got to be streetwise in this game. We’re not here to make friends – the fans are doing that. But from the players’ point of view, if you smell danger, if you can hold the player up and you can win the ball, fantastic.
“But if you think, ‘We’re in trouble here’, then yes, you do whatever you can to get the right result and if that’s fouling, then you foul. It’s not a crime. You might get a yellow card – you might even get a red – but your team might win.
“Sacrifices – you’ve got to make sacrifices for your team. Does that answer your question? What do you think I would do?”
Wednesday’s game against Italy has inevitably rekindled memories of one of the biggest results in Irish football history, the day when Ray Houghton fired the Republic to a 1-0 victory over the Italians at the Giants Stadium during the 1994 World Cup finals.
They will need to be just as good if they are to manage a similar outcome this time around and while the odds may be against it, Keane has seen enough from the current squad to believe they can do it.
He said: “It’s been done before. It’s not an impossible mission we’re on.
“I suppose we had this conversation the other day about Belgium. Individually, they (Italy) have very good players. But if we’re at our best and a little bit of luck goes our way – and a few decisions – then we’re capable of it.
“You know, we have beaten Germany in the last two years. Players have to remember these days.
“I appreciate there was some negativity for the past one or two days, but this team has bounced back before and I’ve no doubt that we will bounce back on Wednesday with a good performance.
“I’ve said it before that it doesn’t guarantee that you are going to win a game of football, so fingers crossed.”
However, if Ireland are to prosper as they did in New Jersey 22 years ago, they will have to take greater care of the ball than they did against Belgium at the weekend, when they surrendered possession all too readily.
Keane said: “I am not talking about our players, but you get some players showing for it, but they’re not really showing for it. You want to see the whites of their eyes – do you want the ball?
“That’s where courage comes into it. Courage is a big part of being a footballer – and courage doesn’t mean booting somebody, it’s wanting the ball when sometimes you don’t actually want the ball, if that makes sense.
“Bravery, courage, we need to see that in the next few days. Courage, you need players with courage…and balls.”