Former Irish international Kevin Kilbane says Martin O’Neill’s side should not be fearing Italy ahead of Euro 2016 this summer.
The Irish are ranked as outsiders of the four teams but according to Kilbane, now a television pundit, there should be no inferiority complex when it comes to facing Italy.
Antonio Conte’s team are not the force of old says the ex-midfielder and he believes the Azzurri are living off reputation alone now.
“I’ve covered every single Italy game through the qualifiers and…I don’t see any real threat within that side,” says Kilbane.
“I think man for man we’re as good as Italy. It’s a big statement but I think we are.”
Ireland faced Italy four years ago at Euro 2012 in their final group game.
Earlier defeats to Croatia and Spain meant Giovanni Trapattoni’s team were already eliminated as goals in either half from Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli secured the points for Italy.
This time around, Kilbane firmly believes Ireland will have a chance of progression when they face Italy in Lille in their final game.
He does not however want to see O’Neill’s team requiring a win from that game against the notoriously rigid Italians and so he points to Sweden in the opening joust as the key game for Ireland.
“My problem would be if we’ve got to beat Italy in that last game,” added Kilbane.
“I think they’ll probably do enough just to get a draw so I think we’ve got to beat Sweden. Man for man we’re not as good as Belgium but man for man we’re probably as good as the other two sides.”
Ireland are 2.38 to qualify from Group E while they are 2.88 to beat Sweden in their opening game on June 13.