JAMES McClean insists Republic of Ireland’s heroic victory over Italy in Lille has given the squad the belief they can go all the way to the final of Euro 2016!
The Creggan man was one of the star performers against the Italians in the final Group E game at the Stade Pierre Mauroy on Wednesday night as Robbie Brady’s header sent Ireland through to a first ever last 16 tie.
Both McClean and fellow Derry man, Shane Duffy put a lid on celebrations last night and now turn their attentions to a grudge match against host nation, France in Lyon on Sunday afternoon. (K.o. 2p. m.)
And West Brom winger, McClean is confident Martin O’Neill’s troops can produce another historic night against the star-studded French.
“I don’t think it’s sunk in what we’ve achieved,” said McClean. “Not just going through but going through against a quality Italian team. We were very comfortable and dominated the game. And the scenes that came after it will never leave my memory.
“Last night went very well and we’ll take the plaudits when they come,” said McClean. “But we know how important this game is on Sunday.
“It’s nice to give the fans something to be proud of. My family are proud as punch and are milking every minute of it and rightly so. Long may it continue and hopefully come Sunday evening, we’re celebrating another famous victory.
“But we can’t get sidetracked. We’ve qualified from a very tough group. We’re not here to make up the numbers we’re here to win.
“We overcame a momentous challenge on Wednesday and we’ve another one on Sunday. We have nothing to fear. They have top quality players but we have quality players as well.
“We’ll have a right go and hopefully we come out the right end of the result.”
Obviously the whole handball thing will be a major story in the buildup to the game. We can’t stop that. But if we looked at it as a revenge mission we could end up with egg on our faces.James McClean
When asked if he believed the Irish can progress to a quarter-final match against either England or Iceland, McClean answered with a firm ‘yes’.
“Why not go on and win it? We came here to win,” he continued. “We’ve achieved our first mission which was to come out of the group. Now it’s a one-off game of football.
“We have as much chance as everyone else. We have to go in with that mindset. Anything can happen. It’s two teams, they’re not robots and we have to think we can win this game.”
Thierry Henry’s infamous handball in the 2010 World Cup playoff in Paris will certainly feature prominently in the pre-match build-up. However, McClean insists the match isn’t about a revenge mission.
“Obviously the whole handball thing will be a major story in the buildup to the game. We can’t stop that. But if we looked at it as a revenge mission we could end up with egg on our faces.
“We have to focus on the football. That’s history and we can’t rewrite the past.”
McClean was delighted for fellow Derry man, Duffy and said he’s ‘blessed’ to have the support of his hometown.
“Derry’s always been a hotbed for footballing talent,” he added. “Now we have myself and Shane playing at the highest level. We’re very lucky because we have the support from the people of Derry. They look after their own and we’re blessed in that sense because there’s no better people than Derry people.”