Ireland’s 1-0 win over Italy has been hailed as a “miracle” by fans delighted that the Republic’s Euro 2016 dream is still alive.
Scenes of euphoria unfolded on the terraces of the Stade Pierre Mauroy in Lille when Robbie Brady headed the ball past the Italian goalkeeper five minutes from the end to send Ireland into the knockout stages.
Fans erupted when the final whistle blew and players hugged with joy after the Irish were victorious in the must-win match.
Denis Mullins, 67, from County Cork, said the result was a miracle and put it down to a mass that was said in Lille a few hours before kick-off.
“Miracle. We weren’t expecting it but it came. A man here got a mass said in the cathedral this morning and it obviously worked,” he said.
Irish President Michael D Higgins, who was at the game and was said to be dancing in the stands after the goal, said: “Tonight’s game was a wonderful achievement and I want to extend my warmest congratulations to the Republic of Ireland team, the coaches, and all those who made this well-deserved success possible.
“All of those interested in soccer will welcome the fact that now both Irish teams have made it through to the knockout stages of the tournament, and remain in contention for the Henri Delaunay cup.
“May I pay tribute to the Irish fans who have earned widespread acclaim for their behaviour in France. Ireland could not wish for better ambassadors abroad.”
Lorcan Mullen, 26, from County Tyrone, said: “A night grandas will bore their grandkids about in 50 years, and a perfect performance – guile, physicality and bravery.
“They were against a second string Italy side, but they did us proud. It was electric in there. It still is.”
Alan Clarke, 44, who is originally from Dublin but lives in Cologne, said: “Fantastic. Over the moon.”
Hannah Dennehy, 28, from Cork, said: “We just can’t believe it. We’re shaking. Absolutely amazing.”
Noel Black, 48, from Dublin, said: “Wonderful. Fantastic. Overwhelming. It’s great to be here. Onwards and upwards.”
Michael Cawley, 83, from Glasnevin in Dublin, said: “Delighted of course. We were the better team on the day.”
The Irish can now look ahead to a dream showdown against hosts France as they continue their bid for Euro 2016 glory.
Conor Dignam, 21, from Terenure in Dublin, said: “We’ll be talking about that for years to come.
“Robbie Brady is going down in history.”
Darren Byrne, 25, from County Leitrim, said: “Roy Keane’s tactics worked a treat. A phenomenal performance from the lads. A once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
John Hickey, 32, from Dublin, said: “Fully deserved. The most ecstatic feeling in the world.”
Paraic Rowan, 21, from Knocklyon in Dublin, said: “The stadium was bouncing. It’s great to see Ireland finally have a player that’s good enough to step into the boots of Roy Keane – Jeff Hendrick.”
Michael Keenan, 23, from County Armagh, said he got emotional.
“I had an absolutely awesome time. I knocked the sunglasses down off my forehead because I was in tears,” he said.
Johnny Boyle, 29, from Strabane in County Tyrone, said: “I don’t even know how to describe it.
“It’s one of the proudest things you could ever really be a part of.
“To look around and see everyone just kicking every ball, putting in every tackle, just giving unadulterated support.
“The outpouring whenever they scored – you were just hugging every man, woman and child.
“It’s one of the best feelings of my life.”
Wayne Fitzgerald, 36, from Tipperary, said: “It was the greatest sporting occasion I’ve ever witnessed. And I’ve never seen a stadium atmosphere like it.
“I think we’ll beat France. I think we’ll do a job on them.
“We owe them one for what (Thierry) Henry done to us in 2009.”