MARTIN O’NEILL admitted the Republic of Ireland’s 1-0 win over Italy was one of the best nights of his long career.
The former Celtic boss watched Robbie Brady’s late goal take his nation through to the last 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament where they will meet hosts France on Sunday.
And O’Neill said: “I’ve had some great nights, but this was very special. We had an enormous support and they kept us going throughout the game. I think the players and fans fed off each other.”
The Irish finished third in Group E behind Italy and Belgium with Mikael Lustig’s Sweden toppling out of the competition. O’Neill said: “To have come out of the group we had is quite something. The team came out really big.”There has always been a great spirit among the players. But spirit alone does not win the game as you need the ability. We now have that ability.
“We need a performance like this again to stand a chance against France. If we can recover in time, we want to play as strongly as we did tonight.
“It was a great win and we deserved it. I thought the chance had gone when the goalkeeper saved from Wes Hoolihan. I didn’t want it to be one of those nights where it was ‘if only’.”O’Neill also felt Ireland should have had a penalty in the first-half after Daryl Murphy and James McClean both had claims waved away by the Romanian referee.
He added:”It looked as if we should have had a penalty. It was pretty clear cut, but it doesn’t matter now. It was phenomenal stuff.”
Matchwinner Brady added: “We have shown some fantastic results throughout the group stage to get here. This has been a two-year process and we weren’t going to give it up tonight.
“Obviously it’s difficult playing such a relentless Italian side who were going to be hard to break down – we managed to do that. We have managed to beat some of the best teams in the world, so I don’t think we have anything to fear going into the weekend.”