Martin O'Neill admits he has 'never been prouder' as Ireland reach last 16

The Boys in Green earned three precious points against Italy to take them through to the knockout stages of Euro 2016 on Wednesday, and there were plenty of comments to digest from the manager and scorer Robbie Brady after the match.

Martin O'Neill admits he has 'never been prouder' as Ireland reach last 16
Brady's late winner sees Ireland face hosts France in the round of 16. (Photo: UEFA.com)

Republic of Ireland certainly left it late on Wednesday evening, but thanks to a dramatic last gasp winner from Robbie Brady they will be facing off against France in the round of 16 on Sunday, with a place in the quarter-finals at stake.

The fixture has the added incentive of revenge for the Irish, who were denied a place at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in controversial fashion at the hands of France and Thierry Henry. The striker handled the ball during the build up to William Gallas' hotly debated goal in their play-off second leg, sending France to South Africa thanks to a 2-1 aggregate scoreline.

O'Neill's side dealt group leaders Italy their first blow of the tournament on Wednesday however, and although soon to be Chelsea boss Antonio Conte tinkered with his team for the game, Ireland will take heart from their clean sheet and overall performance despite seeing the odds stacked against them prior to kick-off.

O'Neill delighted as his side make history

Speaking at his post-match press conference, O'Neill said that whilst he "cursed" his side's luck in the draw for the group stage initially, he knew that he and his players would have to "get on with it" if they were to focus on reaching the last 16.

The Ulsterman was full of praise for his team, saying that his players "came up really big" in their final group match after knowing that they "had to win a game at some stage".

"We had to have everyone at it tonight" said the Ireland boss, adding that "every one of [Ireland's players] was fantastic" in a game that they simply had to win if they were to progress to the knockout stages.

"Togetherness has been evident in our play", added O'Neill, who commended the "really great spirit about the side" seen during the tournament so far. Where his team selection was concerned, the manager recognised that he needed "energy in the team" in order to secure all three points, adding that his players "really rose to the occasion."

The 64-year old was keen to lavish praise upon his team, admitting that he has "never been prouder of a group of players" after they beat the odds to secure a place in the final 16. O'Neill also recognised the impressive Irish fan base, who he says gave the side "enormous support", and added that he felt "the fans and players fed off each other" during the game.

The match winner was full of emotion after the final whistle. (Photo: UEFA.com)
The match winner was full of emotion after the final whistle. (Photo: UEFA.com)

The hosts awaiting

Not wishing to dwell on his team's success however, O'Neill was quick to look forward to the round of 16 fixture against tournament hosts and favourites France. "It's a great game for us," stated O'Neill, who also admitted that the match will "be a big test" for his Ireland side.

Meanwhile, goal scorer and Ireland's most popular man at the moment Brady also looked forward to the game against "top-class" France, saying: "If we stick together and click like we did tonight we can hurt any team."

The match winner understandably "lost [himself] a little bit in the celebrations", as he admitted that reaching the knockout stages are "what dreams are made of." Not taking all of the credit for himself however, Brady applauded the assist from playmaker Wes Hoolahan for a "fantastic ball" for his goal and added that he would "have done well to miss it."

"I grew up waiting to play at this stage, dreaming about it since I was a little kid" said Brady, who added that scoring in front of his family and taking his country to the round of 16 was "the best feeling in the world".