Euro 2016: Star-studded Belgium on edge ahead of encounter against Ireland

  • AFP, Bordeaux
  • Updated: Jun 18, 2016 16:01 IST
Belgium's defenders Thomas Vermaelen (R) and Toby Alderweireld attend a training session. (AFP Photo)

Belgium coach Marc Wilmots is in the line of fire amid suggestions he is not doing enough to get the best from a star-studded squad ahead of Saturday’s Euro 2016 clash with the Republic of Ireland.

The Red Devils are second in the FIFA world rankings but they disappointed in their opening game in Group E in France, losing 2-0 to Italy in Lyon.

On Friday they saw Italy secure qualification for the last 16 by beating Sweden 1-0, turning up the pressure on both sides ahead of the game at Bordeaux’s impressive new Matmut Atlantique stadium.

A Belgium squad containing the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku is one of the strongest at the tournament, but there is a growing feeling that Wilmots is not the man to get the best out of a richly talented squad.

“We are not going to throw away everything after one defeat. In the last 47 matches I have been coach we have very rarely lost,” a bullish Wilmots told a press conference on Friday.

“I have confidence in the reaction of the players. The press are expecting a victory and we will do everything to obtain it.”

Wilmots, from the Wallonia region of Belgium, has been given a tough time by Flemish-speaking sections of the media in a linguistically-divided country.

There have been suggestions that senior members of his squad are not happy with his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation and Wilmots was asked how he felt about sources within the dressing room revealing their discontent to the press.

“I am not worried. That is all part of the circus of football. It doesn’t stop me from sleeping,” Wilmots said.

The 47-year-old -- who played for Belgium when the nations last met in a World Cup qualifying play-off in 1997 -- will make changes against Ireland and said that only goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was guaranteed to start in Bordeaux.

Belgium's goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois makes a save during a training session. (Reuters Photo)

Striker Lukaku is expected to be dropped to make way for either Michy Batshuayi or Christian Benteke. In addition, De Bruyne should be fit after suffering a knock against Italy, but may be left out with Yannick Carrasco and Dries Mertens pushing for starts.

Ireland appear in a much more settled mood as they look to build on an encouraging performance in drawing 1-1 with Sweden at the Stade de France on Monday.

Manager Martin O’Neill is likely to make just the one change to his starting line-up, with James McClean the leading candidate to take the place of Jon Walters, the Stoke City forward having failed to recover from an achilles problem.

“There have been a few days now (since the first game) and the main bulk of players who played most of that match have had time to rest up, and actually I think that game will have brought them on somewhat,” O’Neill said.

If Ireland were considered outsiders for this game when the draw was made, the pressure now building on Belgium could work in their favour. O’Neill, however, refused to be drawn in by talk of unrest in the opposition camp.

“It seems the talk about friction comes up as soon as they don’t beat Italy, but Italy are a top class tournament team.

“Belgium are a totally different side to Sweden. They are as talented as any side in the competition and we will have to look at that.

O’Neill, whose team face Italy in Lille in their last group game, added: “These are big games for us. We have to be mentally tuned in, as physically strong as can be and we can’t afford a 15 to 20-minute period where we fall into a lull.

“Other sides in this competition who obviously have a lot of talent maybe can afford to do that, but we can’t.”

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