Saturday, 18 June 2016

Belgium v Republic of Ireland Match Analysis

Before the game it was the Irish fans who had  most reasons to be cheerful, after their team had put in a decent performance in the opening game against Sweden. The Belgians, on the other hand, must've been wondering what had happened to their so-called golden generation in their opener against an unfancied Italian outfit, especially as rumours of disharmony between various factions in the squad have begun to overshadow preparations for this game.

There were a couple of worries for Ireland though, chiefly being the very obvious deterioration in fitness level as the first match wore on, and it was noticeable that the players brought on by Martin O'Neill were weaker than those they replaced. Also, an injury to Jonathan Walters severely limited their attaching options.

Bordeaux is famous for it's reds, so United fans were pleased to see club legend John O'Shea captaining Ireland, while Marouane Fellaini was on the bench for the Belgians.

Belgium started the game with greater purpose, looking to expose the lack of pace in the Irish back four, with Ireland seemingly happy to rely on the counter attack. With Dembele directing play from the centre circle, spraying the ball around in the Irish half without any pressure, it looked like being a long afternoon for O'Shea and Co.

Hazard's movement around the box was exceptional, and De Bruyne's constant running in behind the full back caused no end of trouble. Ireland did get the ball out of their own half, however it quickly came back, putting further pressure on a stretched defence. But for some wayward final balls, and an unmarked Hazard blasting high over the bar from 12 yards out, this tie could've been settled in the first half an hour.

Belgium created a wonderful opportunity on the 41st minute, when a corner from the right hand side taken by De Bruyne, was met by Alderwiereld, whose powerful header was cleared off the line by Wes Hoolahan. Wave after wave of Belgium pressure followed, and Ireland's defence started to creak under the strain. When the half time whistle blew, Martin O'Neill would have been the most relieved of the two managers, however, despite Belgium's overall superiority, it was apparent that Randolph hadn't had any real saves to make during the first half.

Neither team made a change at half time, and the second half got under way with a noticeable difference in the Irish attitude. They pushed men forward and attempted to put Belgium on the back foot; the result was disastrous. Belgium counter attacked down the right, and a great ball from De Bruyne to Lukaku resulted in the Everton striker scoring the opening goal with a lovely left foot shot from the edge of the box. From this point on, Ireland had to continue to push forward in search of an equaliser, so the game began to open up.

An injury to Dembele after 55 minutes gave Ireland hope, as he had been Belgium's best player up until that point, however a great headed goal by Witsel after a period of sustained pressure by Belgium turned that hope into despair. Two nil to Belgium, and Ireland were on the ropes.
When Lukaku added a third on 70 minutes, there was a real possibility of the floodgates opening, however, Belgium were happy to allow Ireland to have some of the ball and see the game out with relative ease.

The gulf in class between the two teams, particularly in midfield, was blindingly obvious from the start. Marc Wilmots has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal, while some of the Irish midfield play was just plain embarrassing. Ireland's best chance of winning this game rested on the  notion that Belgium's players and management were at war, however today's performance dispelled that myth, temporarily at least.

The result leaves Ireland needing a positive result against a resurgent Italy, while Belgium must fancy themselves against a Swedish team that has yet to register a shot on target. Goal difference will prove to be a factor in separating the 3rd place teams, so Ireland may suffer because of today's final score.

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