Disciplined, organised, powerful, resolute and spirited. Each of those qualities are possessed in abundance by Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland side, who produced a fine performance in drawing 1-1 with Sweden in their first game of Euro 2016.
Playing with determination, endeavour and a great deal of passion, both teams acquitted themselves extremely well in a thoroughly entertaining match, which the Republic were nevertheless left feeling frustrated at not having won.
After going ahead deservedly through Wes Hoolahan’s fine strike in the 49th minute, they tried to defend that lead and invited pressure from the Swedes, which eventually told when Ciaran Clark headed Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s cross into his own net after 71 minutes.
Thereafter the Republic reasserted themselves as an attacking force in the game but were unable to find a winning goal. Despite that O’Neill lavished praise on his players for their performance.
“I thought we were magnificent in the game with some really great football. I think they should be absolutely thrilled with the way we played.”
As such O’Neill’s men go into their game against Belgium in buoyant mood, whilst knowing – given Italy’s 1-0 win over Sweden yesterday – that a win would ensure them of at least a 3rd place finish in Group F and greatly enhance their prospects of reaching the last 16.
Unable to assist the Republic’s attempt to achieve that due to an Achilles injury is Jonathan Walters, which the Stoke forward sustained in the game against Sweden, with his likely replacement being West Bromwich Albion’s James McClean.
Aside from that one enforced switch, O’Neill is expected to name an unchanged starting XI, which will seek to win the country’s first game at a European Championship since they beat England 1-0 at Euro 88.
In order to achieve that the Republic will require to overcome one of international football’s most talented teams, who are still reeling after having lost their opening Group F match 2-0 to Italy, which gave rise to disharmony among the Belgian camp.
Specifically the team’s goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois criticised head coach Marc Wilmots after the game, saying Italy had “tactically outclassed us.” In addition to that, midfielder Radja Nainggolan was caught gesturing behind his coach’s back after being substituted. Subsequently, both men were spoken to by Wilmots on their journey back to their northern Bordeaux training base.
Therefore in contrast to the Republic’s wonderful spirit and togetherness, a similarly high level of unity does not appear to be permeating the Belgian squad.
As such in order to salvage Belgium’s Euro 2016 campaign from failing, it is necessary for Wilmots to galvanise his players so that they are in the right frame of mind to face a Republic of Ireland side who are certainly ready for the game.