In Euro 2016’s group of death both sides are under pressure to get a win here. With a number of teams being able to get to the knockouts with a 3rd placed finish in their group, three points could be all it takes.
Marc Wilmots is under increasing scrutiny after his side disappointed in a 2-0 defeat to Italy last time out. His players too have received their fair share of criticism after giving some particularly tepid performances in the opening game.
Thanks to a moment of class from Ibrahimovic, Matin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland are now up against the odds too after failing to hold onto a deserved lead in a 1-1 draw with Sweden. The Irish will have targeted the Sweden game as the most likely match to gain three points in a difficult group but will instead have to win one of their final two games.
Belgium may have to make a change, specifically to their front three. In the loss to the Italians Dries Mertens is pressing for a start after he impressed from the bench when there was a distinct lack of cohesion between target man Lukaku and winger De Bruyne and Hazard.
Fellaini played in the midfield three along with Nainggolan and Wistel and one of these may be a casualty to make space for Mertens. Furthermore, De Rode Duivels have a wealth of other attacking options in the squad including Carrasco, Origi and Batshauyi who all have a claim to a starting berth in their own rights.
Republic of Ireland meanwhile will have to make one change despite probably being happy with their performance against Sweden. Jonathan Walters is out with a heel injury and the only other doubt has been the fitness of James McCarthy who passed a late fitness test to start against Sweden.
Daryl Murphy could come into the side to play in the same system due to Walters’ absence. Alternatively O’Neill could look to pack the midfield and bring in James McClean or Stephen Quinn and pack the midfield.
Wes Hoolanhan played in the hole behind forwards Walters and Long and it was he who grabbed his side’s goal in emphatic fashion as he powered home from the edge of the box after surfacing as constant thorn in the side of the Swedish defense. Jeff Hendrick in midfield was also a potent danger making some damaging runs from midfield and hit the woodwork.
O’Neill’s men won’t be throwing caution to the wind just yet and should line up in the same defensively vigilant 4-3-1-2 formation. Robbie Brady also impressed from right-back for the Irish and is backing is country to come up with the goods against either Belgium or Italy to stake a claim to progress to the knockout stage.
Speaking to Sky Sports and asked if they could win at least one of their remaining group games, he said: “Yes, 100 per cent, especially the way we played today in the first half pushing forward.”
“If we finish a couple more of them off in the next couple of games. We’ve shown that we can hurt teams. I’m really looking forward to the next two games and I’ve got really good feelings that we can get out of this group.”
The game in Bordeaux is a must win for both sides with Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois demanding his side improve against Republic of Ireland after a poor performance against Italy.
He told uefa.com: “I’m really disappointed. I don’t think we did enough except towards the end when we created a few chances but not enough to score.
“It was Italy who had the best chances. They were organized and tactically they were the better team. It was a really tough game and on Saturday we have to go out and win now.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game and they defended really well. I don’t think they created any real clear-cut chances to kill off the game.
“The last goal was a counter attack and it came from a second ball, which we weren’t solid enough to go and claim. They were quicker to it than us.
“On Saturday we need to go out there and do more. The first match is always very important, especially against a team like Italy – if you win that, then you’re in a good position.
“But we’re lucky the other match ended 1-1. Now we have to win the other two matches and be a better team.”
There have been a total of 14 games between Belgium and Republic of Ireland. They have never met at a major tournament but since their first meeting in 1928 Belgium have won five and drawn five. Republic of Ireland hasn’t beaten Belgium since 1966 and their three other victories took place before 1930.
The sides last met in Brussels during qualification for the 1998 World Cup. The Red Devils won 2-1 thanks to goals either side of half time from Luis Oliveira and Luc Nilis. In the Dublin leg Luc Nilis was on the score sheet again as he canceled out Denis Irwin’s opener in a 1-1 draw.
Belgium topped their group ahead of surprise package Wales in qualification and secure their spot in France with a 4-1 over Andorra in the penultimate game. A 0-0 stalemate at home to Wales followed by a 1-0 loss in Cardiff raised a few eyebrows over Marc Wilmot’s team who has once again been dubbed as the tournament’s dark horses.
Doubts have continued to grow over Belgium in their three warm-up games. After winning 2-1 against Switzerland they huffed and puffed to salvage a draw against Finland where Lukaku’s 89th minute equalizer saved the team some face. In the following game they trailed Norway 2-1 before recovering in the last 20 minutes to win 3-2.
Republic of Ireland didn’t win either of their Euro 2016 warm-up games. Martin O’Neil’s team battled to a 1-1 draw against Holland before taking on Belarus. In a game designed to improve confidence they were beaten 2-1 but the lowly Belarusians.
Despite being drawn into a difficult group the Irish qualified for Euro 2016 via a play-off win against Bosnia-Herzegovina. A win at home to Germany as well as a draw in Gelsenkirchen with the help of a very late equalizer form captain John O’Shea will live long in the memory of the Irish faithful.
Belgium: Courtois; Vermaelen, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Ciman; Nainggolan, Witsel; De Bruyne, Fellaini, Hazard; Lukaku.
Republic of Ireland: Randolph; Coleman, Clark, O’Shea, Brady; Whelan, McCarthy, Hendrick, Hoolahan; Walters, Long.
Belgium 0 – 0 Republic of Ireland – 10/1
Belgium 3 – 0 Republic of Ireland – 11/1
Belgium 1– 2 Republic of Ireland – 16/1
Republic of Ireland to Win – 4/1
Belgium to win 3-0, 3-1 or 3-2 – 9/2