Belgium manager Marc Wilmots will be looking for a strong response to the Italy defeat when his side take on the Republic of Ireland in their second Group E game on Saturday.
The Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux is the venue for the Group E clash between star-studded Belgium and a Republic of Ireland side who are more than capable of springing a surprise on Saturday. While the Irish registered their first points of the tournament in the 1-1 draw with Sweden, Marc Wilmots’ men fell to a damaging defeat against Italy in their opening game.
The Irish will need a degree of luck when they come up against a Belgium side looking to make up for that terrible performance against Italy. Questions were raised immediately after the Red Devils’ starting XI was made public and eventually, Antonio Conte’s Italy managed to outclass them on all fronts. Belgium came into the tournament as one of the favourites, but a defeat on Saturday could send them packing.
Team News & Tactics
Rumours of unrest in the Belgium dressing room have emerged since their loss to Italy. Marc Wilmots blaming Romelu Lukaku and Toby Alderweireld is unlikely to have helped the Red Devils’ cause, while the rumoured altercation between Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois and his manager raises questions over the unity of the camp.
Wilmots will look to stick to the same formation, knowing that his side can afford to be more adventurous in attack against the Republic of Ireland. Club Brugge’s Thomas Meunier could replace Laurent Ciman at right-back, while Tottenham Hotspur duo Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld are expected to retain their positions along with Barcelona’s Thomas Vermaelen.
Meanwhile, Axel Witsel is expected to retain his place alongside Radja Nainggolan in front of the back four. They will be tasked with keeping Wes Hoolahan quiet throughout the game and intercepting attempted passes to the likes of Robbie Keane and Shane Long. They will also look to reduce the impact of Ireland’s wingers on their respective flanks.
Wilmots’ decision to start Manchester United flop Marouane Fellaini in a central role against Italy backfired and the team looked disjointed in attack. As such, Napoli’s Dries Mertens or Atletico Madrid’s Yannick Carrasco could replace the former Everton midfielder in the starting lineup, while Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne is expected to be deployed in his favoured no.10 role.
The linkup play between De Bruyne and Chelsea star Eden Hazard will be crucial to Belgium’s attacking from the left flank, and Vertonghen’s overlapping runs and his understanding with Hazard will have to be almost perfect for them to be able to work together in attack and defence.
It is uncertain whether Chelsea and Manchester United target Romelu Lukaku will start up front for Les Diables Rouges. His glaring miss in the last game along with his generally unconvincing performance against the Italians has forced Marc Wilmots to reconsider his options.
Wilmots has mentioned his uncertainity at Lukaku starting after the Italy game, saying [via Sky Sports]: “I don’t know yet whether Romelu [Lukaku] will start again. I will have to think about the line-up. It’s not like all his confidence is gone all of a sudden after the match versus Italy. I have a number of options, though, and we will see which one is the best.”
Liverpool duo Christian Benteke and Divock Origi are two of four striking options available to the Belgian manager. The fourth option, Marseille’s Michy Batshuayi, has been widely tipped to feature in some capacity.
Predicted Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Courtois; Vertonghen, Vermaelen, Alderweireld, Ciman; Witsel, Nainggolan; Hazard, De Bruyne, Mertens; Lukaku
Republic of Ireland
Martin O’Neill’s men will be looking to build on their draw against Sweden, where they conceded an unlucky own goal to throw away the three points. A win here would give them a huge boost for a second place finish in Group E and the Green Army will try to capitalise on Belgium’s low morale following the Italy result.
O’Neill is likely to stick to the 4-3-1-2 formation he used in the opening game. Stoke City’s Jonathan Walters is expected to miss the game with an Achilles injury and Robbie Keane could take his place up front with Shane Long. The Southampton striker will look to take inspiration from teammate Graziano Pelle and breach the Belgian defence as well. The 29-year-old’s ability to finish his chances will be integral to Ireland’s hopes of qualification.
Norwich City’s Robbie Brady, Sunderland’s John O’Shea, Aston Villa’s Ciaran Clark and Everton’s Seamus Coleman are expected to form the back four in front of West Ham shot-stopper Darren Randolph.
Jeff Hendrick, Glenn Whelan and James McCarthy will be deployed as the midfield three. The trio will be expected to shut down Belgium’s passing lanes in midfield and stop the likes of Hazard and De Bruyne from exerting their influence on the match.
Wes Hoolahan, who scored against Sweden, will be playing in a central attacking midfield role and will have to slot in behind Robbie Keane and Shane Long. The 34-year-old will come up against Chelsea target Radja Nainggolan and Axel Witsel, and given the physicality of the Belgian midfield pairing, it is sure to be a stern test for the veteran playmaker.
Predicted Starting XI (4-3-1-2) : Randolph; Brady, O’Shea, Clark, Coleman; Hendrick, Whelan, McCarthy; Hoolahan; Keane, Long
- Belgium last lost to The Republic Of Ireland in May 1966. It was a friendly which ended 3-2.
- The Republic of Ireland have never scored more than one goal in a European Championship game.
- This will be the 1st time the two teams will face each other in a major tournament.
- Former Liverpool and Spurs star Robbie Keane has found the back of the net 11 times in his previous 13 starts for the Republic of Ireland.
- Belgium captain Eden Hazard has not scored in the 458 minutes he’s played in major international tournaments.
- The Republic of Ireland have never progressed beyond the group stages of the European Championships.
Players to watch
Republic of Ireland: Robbie Keane
The 35-year-old will lead his side out once again in light of the injury to Jon Walters, and all eyes will be on the former Liverpool and Spurs hitman as he tries to breach the Belgium defence and help his country qualify for the knockout stages.
Keane is seeing out the final years of his career in the United States at LA Galaxy. Last year, he enjoyed his most prolific season in front of goal, finding the net 25 times in 27 appearances. He will be going into the tournament as Ireland’s most capped player and their top goalscorer and could prove to Belgium’s undoing if the Red Devils make the mistake of underestimating him.
Belgium 2-1 Republic Of Ireland
Belgium have too much quality in their side to not win this game. If Wilmots were to field the correct side that plays to the strengths of the likes of Hazard and De Bruyne, the Red Devils should be able to get their first win of the tournament.
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