Martin O’Neill gave very little away as he sat, with bowed head, in the media conference room at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy. Yet his intentions appeared pretty clear.

The Republic of Ireland manager has taken his side to the French frontier town of Lille with just one instruction for his loyal disciples. Beat Italy.

Victory for Ireland will see O’Neill’s side move into the round of 16 at Euro 2016, yet in reality, the knock-out stages start at 9pm tonight (8pm Irish time) - for Ireland at least.

The Irish encountered a similar scenario at the end of the qualifying campaign when they had a one-off clash with Poland to go straight through to the European championships.

Of course, they lost 2-1 in Warsaw, but tonight in Lille they are not in possession of the play-off safety net.

Anything other than victory for O’Neill’s side and Ireland will be packing their bags and bidding au revoir to their pretty palace in Versailles and jetting back to their Irish summer in the morning.

O’Neill’s tone was far from cocky throughout this afternoon’s press conference, yet the belief that his side can grab this most unlikely victory was emanating from every answer.

The manager spoke very little of Saturday’s defeat to Belgium but referenced the Swedish game on several occasions as a template, of sorts, to grab that necessary win.

“We felt we started on the back foot against Belgium,” said O’Neill when that embarrassing defeat eventually reared its ugly head.

“But we will start this match on the front foot,” added O’Neill, as he spoke like a boxer who is looking for an early knock-out.

And O’Neill promised that he would bring energy to the performance as he looks to recreate that first-half performance that his side produced against Sweden.

O’Neill’s logic, at least, is plausible, as there is every chance that Ireland would convert one or two similar chances should his players endeavour to create them against an arguably better side tonight.

But that is easier said than done.

The Ireland manager does not have the luxury of naming that same starting eleven that performed so well for 60 minutes against Sweden in Paris.

Jonathan Walters (above) will be absent from the Ireland line-up as he has not fully recovered from his Achilles injury, while the manager is also likely to make some personnel changes as he wades through the collateral damage from the Belgium performance.

O’Neill can, however, return to his preferred 4-3-1-2 starting formation with Daryl Murphy coming in as a straight swap for Walters.

Robbie Brady is expected to return to his role in the back four, while there is a strong suspicion that O’Neill will replace one, if not both, central defenders after that below-par Belgium performance.

James McCarthy’s position is also in doubt and Stephen Quinn (below) may come in for his first appearance at the tournament.

Quinn’s last run out in the green jersey came in the friendly international against the Netherlands at the end of May at the Aviva. And it must be said that the Reading midfielder looked very comfortable in that three-man midfield, playing against quality opposition.

Key to that impressive opening Euro 2016 performance against Sweden was Wes Hoolahan’s role at the top of the diamond.

Yet paradoxically, there is an argument that the manager might be better off holding the mini-magician – who is not deemed able to give a full 90 – back on the bench until the final 30 minutes, should Ireland require some creativity to help decide a tight contest.

And there might have been a stronger argument for that tactical approach if there were a couple of different permutations in play this evening.

But Italy are already through to the knock-out stages as group winners, so O’Neill must believe that if his side can get ahead against an under-strength side, they will be able to hold out for victory.

Italy are set to make wholesale changes to the side that secured the win over Sweden, allowing the coach Antonio Conte (below) to rest key players and avoid risking those carrying cautions.

But as the Ireland manager rightly pointed out, these new faces are still bringing an excellent pedigree to this Italy side, playing their club football at the likes of AC Milan or Roma, and therefore not necessarily weakening the team that much.

And this Italian performance will be very interesting to observe. While the new players will be looking to impress the coach, they will also be anxious not to make any mistakes.

The Italian second string will be keen to show Conte that they can easily slot into his preferred system and will rely on their quality in possession to randomly attack this Ireland side, which they will still be confident of beating.

And that will be the true test of this Ireland selection; whether or not they have the quality to unlock this stubborn Italian system.

Italy, of course, will be more than happy to sit back and absorb the Irish assault. And should Ireland take too direct a route to goal, they just might be playing into the hands of the Italian back three who will not be fazed by such tactics.

Ireland will need to produce some good combinations of play to get a decent look at the Italian goal, while the importance of Brady’s set-piece delivery is again vital to O’Neill’s side’s chances.

Shane Duffy, if selected, will prove a real handful in the opposing penalty area for even the most battle-hardened Italian defender, while Murphy will also attempt to make a nuisance out of himself as he looks to grab what would be the most timely of debut international goals.

Shane Long, Jeff Hendrick, Seamus Coleman (above) and Hoolahan give Ireland some genuine attacking options, but as Roy Keane alluded to on Monday, Ireland will still need a bit of luck and some decent decisions to go their way.

Ireland will give themselves every chance of beating the Azzurri at a packed Lille venue tonight and despite the quality coming into the changing Italy side, the group winners will not be in top gear this evening.

Lens or Lyon await Ireland should they take another major scalp in tonight’s final group encounter.

But if Ireland do bow out of the tournament, having failed to win any of their three group games, they can have no complaints and must accept that their only involvement in the last 16 is watching from afar.