Belgium 3-0 Ireland
The Republic of Ireland’s hopes of making it out of the group stages took a knock today when a determined Belgian side picked Martin O’Neill’s men apart in a second half massacre in Bordeaux today. Goals from Romelu Lukaku and an Axel Witsel strike saw Belgium once again show why they are contenders this year.
The first ten minutes were relentless for the Ireland defence and midfield, who tried to narrow the pitch, attempting to block every route to goal. It was serving its purpose, but only just.Belgium’s first real chance came after 13 minutes, remarkably from a set-piece, considering how effective their free-flowing football was proving.Toby Alderweireld got a good run across James McCarthy to send a glancing header across the face of the goal, but the ball hopped wide of Darren Randolph’s left post.Ireland were getting a small bit of joy, working the ball into the Belgium half but it was really just an exercise in relieving pressure.Their best bit of play came in the 18th minute as Jeff Hendrick and Wes Hoolahan combined well after good play up the left-wing. The attack was stopped but only half cleared.Hoolahan picked the ball up and whipped a fine ball to the back post, which was cleared for a corner. But that was as good as it got from an attacking perspective.
Belgium should have taken the lead in the 21st minute.This time they attacked on the right flank and a low ball into the box was only half cleared by John O’Shea who was tussling with Romelu Lukaku at the time.The ball landed on a plate for Belgium captain Eden Hazard about nine yards from goal but the Chelsea midfielder could only smash the ball over the bar.Sloppy Belgian defending almost let Ireland in on goal a minute later as another poor clearance arrived at the feet of Hoolahan.For once, the Norwich man’s touch deserted him and that split second cost him a chance of rolling Hendrick in on his left as the Derby County midfielder would have been through on goal.Then in the 25th minute Belgium had the ball in the back of the net.Another excellent ball into the box found Carrasco steaming in from the right and his flicked effort required a world-class save from Randolph, who touched the ball onto the bar.The rebound was duly smashed into the back of the net but amidst all the excitement, the linesman was flagging for the initial Carrasco run that was offside.
But the Belgians kept piling forward, wave after wave, looking particularly impressive as they turned defence into attack in a matter of seconds, keeping Randolph busy with another couple of efforts but nothing really threatening.Hendrick kept making progress through the middle without really setting up anything of note, his best bit of work coming in the 33rd minute but his final ball to roll in Long was just under-hit.The Derby County man picked up a farcical yellow card just before half time when he played the second ball that was on the pitch at the time.Ireland got to the break on level terms thanks to Seamus Coleman clearing a Toby Alderweireld effort from a corner off the line.
The second half saw Belgium show their true potential and justified why they were one of the pre-tournament favourites.Ireland can certainly feel aggrieved with the opening goal as it arrived in the 48th minute, just seconds after Shane Long was the victim of a reckless challenge in the box, where Alderweireld’s foot was raised above head height.The referee waved play on and moments after the ball was cleared, De Bruyne was motoring down the right flank as Ireland attempted to get numbers back.But the clinical pass at pace in from the right proved perfect for the advanced Lukaku who just needed one touch on the edge of the box before curling the ball low to Randolph’s right, giving the keeper no chance.
Ireland now had to take some chances and enjoyed a modicum of success running at the Belgian defence with Hendrick, Whelan and Coleman all making inroads into the final third.The best chance arrived in the 59th minute as Hendrick rolled Coleman inside on the right before the Everton defender clipped a great ball to the back post where Brady was waiting.A moment’s hesitation by the Norwich man as he took a touch instead of hitting the ball first time and the chance was gone.
Two minutes later, so was the match.Belgium were still thriving and looking world class, breaking quickly from defence but the second goal was a soft one from an Irish perspective.Man of the match Witsel picked the ball up in midfield and sent it out to the right flank.The ball was drilled into the danger zone moments later and Witsel waltzed unchallenged into the box to direct his header home.McCarthy was meant to be marking the Zenit midfielder but did not even see him drift past and was not even able to challenge the header that flew past Randolph.
McCarthy was relieved of his duties moments later as James McClean was sent on in his place.Ireland, to their credit kept trying to move forward, but all they were really doing was allowing Belgium more time and space in possession.Belgium’s final goal really showed how clinical they can be breaking from their own half.James McClean was tackled at the corner flag as the West Brom man was trying to initiate an Ireland attack, but a quick ball up the right flank found Eden Hazaed who skipped up the wing, evading a reckless challenge by Ciarán Clark.Hazard turned goalwards and looked like he was going to attempt to open his account at the tournament, but unselfishly looked inside and rolled the ball to Lukaku who enjoyed the simplest of tasks to stroke the ball home.Belgium noticeably took the foot off the pedal throughout the final stages as they must now move on to get a result against Sweden to cement their place in the group stages.A tough day at the office for the Irish, as they were taught a real footballing lesson in Bordeaux this afternoon.
Italy are all ready through topping the group and Italian coach Anotnio Conte has confirmed he will rotate players against Ireland on Wednesday. A win against Italy would put Ireland in a great position to qualify as one of the best third placed teams but that is easier said than done. Martin O’Neill and his management staff face a tough task in boosting players morale after todays deflating result. A drastic improvement is needed if Ireland are to progress.
Man of the Match – Axel Witsel (Belgium)
- Radja Nainggolan replaces Moussa Dembele 57 mins
- Dries Mertens replaces Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco 64 mins
- Christian Benteke replaces Romelu Lukaku 82 mins
- James McClean replaces James McCarthy 62 mins
- Aiden McGeady replaces Wesley Hoolahan 72 mins
- Robbie Keane replaces Shane Long 79 mins
Belgium – Thomas Vermaelen.
Ireland – Jeff Hendrick