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Ireland nip Italy 1-0 to enter knockout

Ireland is headed to the European Championship round of 16 for the first time after beating Group E winner Italy 1-0 here on Wednesday to end the group stage as one of the best third-place teams.

Italy, already headed for a knockout stage contest with two-time defending Euro champions Spain, decided to rest eight starters — including goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon — for the match in Lille, offering a glimmer of hope to the underdog Irish side.

Robbie Brady’s strike in the 85th minute was the first goal to be conceded by the Azzurri at Euro 2016.

The Irish played with their characteristic grit and determination in a foul-filled contest that more closely resembled a rugby match than a soccer game.

Ireland dominated possession in the first half and Italy’s first chance didn’t come until the 54th minute, when Simone Zaza fired just over the crossbar.

The Italians threatened again in the 78th minute, but Lorenzo Insigne hit the post.

The Irish battled on and their work bore fruit when Brady headed in Wes Hoolahan’s cross.

Ireland will play host country France in the round of 16. 

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