Belgium will face the Republic of Ireland in what could be a pivotal encounter in Group E that may decide the fate of Marc Wilmots’ side after their opening round loss to Italy. It was not the scoreline or the result that may have troubled the Red Devils but it was the manner in which they collectively failed against an organised and well drilled Azzurri outfit masterminded by Antonio Conte. Although, the next two games, including the one on Saturday in Bordeaux, should go Belgium’s way, at least on paper, and it will be interesting to see how Eden Hazard and co put their woes behind and respond to a disappointing loss in their last game.
For Martin O’Neill and Republic of Ireland, it was an opportunity missed to capitalise on Belgium’s slip up in the last round. After going up in the 47th minute, thanks to a brilliant finish from Wes Hoolahan, they shot themselves on the foot with a late own goal by Ciaran Clark and the spoils were shared. But that performance should give them the belief and strength going into Saturday’s game, which they start as underdogs, something they will be very comfortable with. As all the eyes will be on Belgium, it’s another glorious chance for the Boys in Green to make their mark in the tournament.
Marc Wilmots, on captain Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne, who both picked up injuries against Italy and were unable to train for the past two days, said
“Both participated in training today. But I stay careful, especially with Kevin De Bruyne.”
Likely XI – Courtois; Ciman, Alderweireld, Vermaelen, Vertonghen; Witsel, Nainggolan; De Bruyne, Fellaini, Hazard; Lukaku
Forward Jon Walters (Achilles) and goalkeeper Keiren Westwood (back strain) sat out ROI’s most recent training session which would force O’Neill to refresh his squad selection.
Likely XI – Randolph; Coleman, O’Shea, Clark, Brady; McCarthy, Whelan, Hendrick McClean; Hoolahan; Long
- Belgium have not lost to Group E rivals Ireland in 50 years
- They have also never lost a competitive game against Ireland (W2 D5)
- The Red Devils beat Ireland 3-2 on aggregate in the 1998 World Cup play-offs
Eden Hazard – Belgium
Eden Hazard was at the centre of all things encouraging about Belgium against Italy – as the midfielder moved the ball well, slaloming his way past defenders, but couldn’t find the final ball that hurt Italy. His influence in the game will be more pronounced against a side like Republic of Ireland who push their full backs high up giving Hazard the space he needs to operate effectively, which is why he will be key in arguably Belgium’s most important competitive game in recent times.
Robbie Brady – Republic of Ireland
Brady is definitely one of Republic of Ireland’s most important players – in terms of how they play largely depends on how Brady plays – and vice versa. With a gifted left foot, the ex-Manchester United academy star goes up and down the left flank and if he could find Long more often than not against Belgium, then Republic of Ireland will have a great chance to cause an upset on Saturday.
It promises to be a fascinating game but Belgium will have too much in the end.
Belgium 2-0 Republic of Ireland