The Republic of Ireland faced a mountainous task on Wednesday -- beat Italy or go home. After earning just one point in their first two Euro 2016 group matches, it was do-or-die time for the Irish. That they had to do it against Italy, who had easily won both of their previous matches, only made the task all the more daunting.
But then something wonderful happened. Ireland pushed hard from first minute to last, and in the 85th minute, Robbie Brady scored perhaps the biggest goal any Irish player has scored in decades:
Credit: r/soccer user CorbinCaston12
It was an excellent goal, and came off the heels of another dangerous Ireland attack. They'd finally been forcing some cracks into the Italian defense, which had put in a dogged performance all match long, and a spell of relentless pressure finally gave Wes Hoolahan and Robbie Brady the opening they needed to create that absolutely fantastic strike.
The goal and Ireland's performance were typical of how they'd played all through qualifying for the tournament -- press hard from first minute to last to create that one opportunity to win, and then exploit it. They don't play super-exciting, high-flying football, but they have been very effective at what they do, and it got them their first-ever Euro knockout round berth.
Now they have a very difficult match with France in the Round of 16, but they showed against Italy that they have the will to get the job done. Even considering how much Italy rotated, their opponents put in a very good defensive performance. They had to do very well to win and earn this crack at France -- and who knows, maybe they'll make the same magic happen again.