Fans celebrate 'miracle in Lille' as Ireland qualify for last 16


A "miracle" night in Lille for Ireland saw the Republic join England, Wales and Northern Ireland in the Euro 2016 knockout stages.

There were euphoric scenes on the terraces of the Stade Pierre Mauroy - and across the Emerald Isle - as Robbie Brady's 85th-minute header took the side 1-0 up over Italy to clinch a spot in the last 16.

Martin O'Neill's squad will now hope to keep fans' dreams alive when they meet hosts France in Lyon on Sunday.

The fairytale finish came after a historic night for Northern Ireland on Tuesday that saw the side clear the group stages for the first time in a major tournament for 30 years.

Paris will be the backdrop to a home nations face-off on Saturday, when Northern Ireland face a Welsh team hot off their 3-0 thrashing of Russia.

Then on Monday it is to the French Riviera for England and Iceland, where Roy Hodgson's men will hope to find the "je ne sais quoi" that eluded them in their 0-0 draw against Slovakia.

It was inspiration from on high that saw Ireland eke out a place in the knockout stage, according to some fans.

Denis Mullins, 67, from County Cork, put the win 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.

In Dublin, anticipation was at fever pitch in the last five minutes of the do-or-die tie, exploding into celebration when Brady found the back of the Italian net.

Hundreds of fans had crammed into the cavernous DTwo venue in the city's Harcourt Street for the entire heart-stopping 93 minutes.

When the goal finally came jerseys were ripped off their chests, drinks hurled in the air and chants offered to the football gods.

"If we die now we will be happy," declared Patrick Doherty.

Elated fans in full voice gathered in near the Tir na nOg pub in Lille city centre late on Wednesday evening where they sang long into the night.

Wayne Fitzgerald, 36, from Tipperary, said: "It was the greatest sporting occasion I've ever witnessed.

"I think we'll beat France. I think we'll do a job on them."

Irish President Michael D Higgins, who was at the game and was said to be dancing in the stands after the goal, said it was a "wonderful achievement".

"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," he said.

Mr Higgins paid tribute to the Irish fans' good behaviour, echoing complements paid to Welsh and Northern Irish supporters for their conduct during the tournament so far.

Wales' progression at the top of Group B meant England fans hoping to for a Parisian weekend will have to decamp to Nice.

The holiday hotspot is around 120 miles east along the Riviera from Marseille, where violence between English and Russian fans marred the start of England's campaign.

:: Northern Ireland against Wales will be shown on BBC One at 5pm on Saturday.