Robbie Brady sent Ireland fans into ecstasy with an 84th minute header which clinched a 1-0 win over Group E winners Italy and sealed their progression to the last 16 of Euro 2016 on Wednesday.
Ireland had to win to have a chance of going through and ended up as one of the four best third-placed teams having amassed four points. The now face hosts France in Lyon on Sunday.
The Irish prevailed after being frustrated for much of the game.
They had a number of penalty appeals rejected and Wes Hoolahan missed a glorious chance just before sparing his own blushes by sending in the cross which Brady nodded home.
"I think I sort of lost myself a bit in the celebrations. I couldn't help it. It is what dreams are made of," Brady told a news conference.
"It shows the character and the playmaker he is to pick the ball up just two minutes later. All plaudits to Wes Hoolahan.
"We just showed team sprit and hard work. We had it all tonight. We stuck at it and put in a great performance. Roll on France."
Italy played a second string side as they were already through to the last 16 with a repeat of the 2012 final against Spain due on Monday at the Stade de France.
With top spot already secured, coach Antonio Conte made eight changes to his starting lineup with the likes of Gianluigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini rested.
Ireland boss Martin O’Neill also made some big calls, changing his centre back pairing and bringing in Daryl Murphy upfront despite the experienced forward never having scored for the national side.
He never threatened to alter the unwanted statistic in his 22nd outing but no Irish fan will care.
Ireland were roared on by a green-clad army of fans who vastly outnumbered the Italian supporters and had been having fun in Lille city centre all day, including pouring washing up liquid into the fountain of a packed main square.
With storms forecast, the roof was closed to protect the already poor quality pitch, which is being ripped up almost immediately after the game and a new one put in place in time for Sunday’s last 16 clash between Germany and Slovakia.
The closed roof led to an even better atmosphere and Ireland fans screamed as Jeff Hendrick’s early piledriver just fizzed wide.
The Irish had most of the play in the first half and had several shouts for a penalty turned down.
The most contentious came when James McClean fell under a challenge from Federico Bernardeschi, leading to reverberating whistles from 25,000 angry Ireland fans against Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan.
Shane Duffy also headed over while Ciro Immobile shot just wide in the best first-half chance for a quiet Italy second string, who did little to force their way into the lineup against Spain.
Simone Zaza tried his best but volleyed just over early in the second period and substitute Lorenzo Insigne later hit the post.
It looked like it was not going to be Ireland's night after Hoolahan tamely shot straight at the goalkeeper but he made amends with Brady burying the header to prompt scenes of utter delight in Lille.
Monday, June 13, 2016 - 21:01