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Dublin: 10 °C Thursday 21 March, 2019
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The time for talking is almost over. We’re less than an hour from kick off in Bordeaux.

How are the nerves?

Martin O’Neill has named his XI to face the Belgians. And he makes one change with Stephen Ward coming in for the injured Jon Walters.

Robbie Brady moves into midfield. What do you make of that?

The Belgium team was leaked this morning and has now been confirmed by Marc Wilmots.

And they look a stronger outfit, to be honest.

Man United midfielder Marouane Fellaini drops to the bench with Spurs’ Moussa Dembele getting the nod.

Yannick Carrasco of Atletico Madrid comes in with Laurent Ciman making way. Radja Nainggolan is also replaced by Thomas Meunier

Good afternoon, everyone.

It’s the big one.

Our nerves are shot already.

How are you feeling?

The Ireland team arrive at the stadium The Ireland team check out the pitch and take in the surroundings. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

And here’s the Belgium team.

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Martin O’Neill brings in Stephen Ward for Jon Walters and tweaks the formation, as expected.

Robbie Brady will push forward and play on the left wing while Jeff Hendrick switches to the right side.

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Wilmots makes changes too. Meunier comes in at right-back for Ciman while Carrasco will play on the right side of midfield and Tottenham’s Dembele will be alongside Witsel as the double pivot.

That also means Kevin de Bruyne will be in his more favoured central position.

So, as much as Ward is a surprise, the most important thing is the formation. The 4-5-1 suits us a lot better than the diamond did against Sweden and the biggest thing for Ireland today is keeping their shape and positional discipline.

Using a system that we know so well is only a good thing.

Ben Blake and Paul Fennessy are both in Bordeaux for us and Paul has just sent us this snap from inside the stadium with the Irish team taking in a pre-match warm-up.

Scenes!

IrelandTeam

In terms of the Belgian changes, by the way, Wilmots has brought in Meunier for Ciman – we mentioned the issues surrounding the right side of their defence in this tactical piece yesterday.

Dembele will be a massive plus – he’s quickly developed into one of the best midfield terriers in the Premier League while Carrasco will be a handful for Ward.

Here’s our Paul Fennessy with a scene-set from the stadium.

It’s getting increasingly loud here at Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux.

The stadium appears roughly half and half between Belgium and Ireland fans, and it’s well over 50% full with a little under half an hour until kick-off.
With a capacity of 42,115, it’s a small enough stadium for such a big game, but it’s also quite compact, which should make for a thrilling atmosphere.
As I type, what will hopefully be the first of many rousing renditions of the Fields of Athenry gets the Irish supporters up on their feet.”

Ominous talk in the RTE studios as Eamon Dunphy rubbishes Kevin de Bruyne.

Teams are in the tunnel. I’d happily take a draw here. But I’m not thinking clearly because my nerves are gone.

Quite the jaunty anthem for the Belgians.

Here we go…

1Mins

Chat in the office on Ireland’s record at major tournaments when wearing white.

It’s not great.

1Mins

Early free-kick for Ireland after de Bruyne’s hand ball. Randolph thumps it up-field.

3Mins

Hazard jinks past a few challenges from deep and space opens up as he plays it to de Bruyne who’s absolutely battered by Clark.

5Mins

Warning down the right side. Brady is very short with a pass inside and Belgium break quickly. When Carrasco whips in the low cross in space, it’s easy for Randolph. But moments earlier, O’Shea was pulled out wide as Belgium’s runners did their job. Ireland can’t take that bait and need to keep their shape here.

8Mins

Long does superbly as he chases into the channel and picks up Ward’s speculative ball. Early sign that Alderweireld sometimes isn’t all he’s cracked up to be. Looked very sluggish when reading Long’s movement there.

9Mins

De Bruyne doesn’t look fit, to be honest. Chasing a ball into the corner, he’s unceremoniously dumped on his arse by Stephen Ward. He needs to be a lot tougher.

13Mins

Ireland are really on the back-foot here. With a few yards in front of Brady, he pings an audacious ball forward to Long that is asking so much of the striker. It’s not a very good tactic and it’s aimlessly giving possession back to the team that desperately wants it.

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CLOSE! Corner for Belgium and de Bruyne whips in a dangerous delivery. Alderweireld flicks towards the far corner and it rolls a foot wide of the post.

16Mins

After 15 minutes, there is one positive: the shape Ireland are keeping.

For the most part, there’s been defensive discipline. But camped so often on the edge of their own area can’t be good for O’Neill’s side long-term.

Flag 18Mins

CLOSE! De Bruyne stands over another set-piece and whips in a brilliant free-kick. There’s no red shirt that can stretch though and it bounces wide of the far post.

19Mins

Good pressure from Ireland after Hoolahan looks for Long with a lovely cross. Two successive corners but the latter is poor from Brady and Courtois sends Belgium 60 yards up the pitch.

Flag 22Mins

VERY CLOSE! Ireland get outnumbered on the left side and de Bruyne whips in another superb cross. It breaks for Hazard who blasts it towards goal but doesn’t get over it properly. He blazes it over the top. Great chance.

24Mins

AGGGHHHH! That was a real chance for Hoolahan to slip in Hendrick after a major error at the back by Belgium. But he dwells on it. And it gives Alderweireld time to make a brilliant crunching tackle.

28Mins

Belgium have the ball in the net. But it won’t count. Carrasco is offside but Darren Randolph didn’t know. He makes a superb save, though Carrasco tucked away the rebound.

29Mins

CLOSE! Another moment from de Bruyne as the ball is flicked into his path and he tries to place it low in the corner. Randolph gets down and makes a comfortable stop.

33Mins

Ciaran Clark is damn right here. A free-kick for Ireland and the centre-back just teases a header back towards goal and puts it on a plate for any Irish player running onto it. Except no one gambles on it. Clark is annoyed – as he should be.

37Mins

Better in the last few minutes as Hendrick gets up in support and tries to release Long. But Belgium are breaking so quickly whenever Ireland get high up the pitch.

40Mins

Hoolahan is taken down after a rash challenge by Dembele. That could’ve been a booking, y’know…

Flag 43Mins

VERY CLOSE! Belgium, like against Italy, are finding it tough to break through. But from their set-pieces, they have a real chance. For a third time, Alderweireld gets above the Irish defence and sends his header towards the far corner. Hoolahan clears right on the line.

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BOOKING! Jeff Hendrick is a bit silly here. As Belgium break down the left, he kicks a second football right into the area they’re attacking. Rightly, he gets a yellow and that’s not very clever.

45Mins

Well, if we were nervous beforehand…

Ireland have been dominated here and been on the back-foot since the game began. Though Belgium haven’t created many clear-cut chances, it’s inevitable they will. Ireland have failed to break up the play enough and give themselves chances up front.

There’s been a lack of decent service to Shane Long and, as a result, he’s been anonymous and growing more irritable as the half wore on.

Being without the ball so much has also meant that when we have got possession, there’s been an anxiety for the Irish players and a lack of composure.

The one positive has been the defensive work. It’s been solid and dogged – at times there have been ten white shirts in front of the Belgian players.

But there has been issues at set-pieces where Alderweireld has been a constant target.

At times, there have been some openings. Hoolahan and Hendrick have both had moments in attack but dwelt too long in possession – just not sharp enough.

45Mins

Ironic that a Dutchman is discussing the lack of feeling between players at a major tournament.

Well, that’s a major blow. Ireland want a penalty after Long is hit in the head by a high boot from Alderweireld. As play goes on, de Bruyne evades McCarthy’s challenge and races clear. Lukaku is inside and picks up the pass, opens his body and guides the low left-footer to the corner.

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BOOKING! Vermaelen has got a yellow here as Ireland try to take a breath. They can’t afford to be caught like that on the break and that goal will give Belgium massive relief here.

51Mins

Corner for Ireland as Whelan gets up in the pitch and takes a rare shot on goal.

Flag 57Mins

SUBSTITUTION! Nainggolan (on) – Dembele (off)

That’s a blow for Belgium. Dembele has been superb but went down after a challenge on Hendrick. Wilmots will be hoping it’s not too serious and he’ll be available for the Sweden fixture.

59Mins

Better from Ireland. Hendrick plays Coleman in on the right. The cross is curled in by Hoolahan and breaks for Brady. He could’ve smacked it first time but takes a touch and a Belgian shirt can get back in time to block.

63Mins

And that’s the clincher for Belgium, it would seem. Ireland gambled on pushing higher. It was a risk to push so much so soon and they’ve been caught on the break again – just like for the opener.

Meunier gets in the cross, McCarthy loses Witsel’s run and the midfielder plants a header past Randolph. The keeper gets a hand to it but it’s too strong and nestles in the net.

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SUBSTITUTIONS! McClean (on) – McCarthy (off) & Mertens (on) – Carrasco (off)

As soon as the goal went in, McCarthy was hauled off. Ireland have to go all-in now. Belgium replace Carrasco as a precaution as he’s picked up a slight knock.

66Mins

Here’s Witsel’s goal – drifted completely past McCarthy who failed to read it.

http://vine.co/v/ilTp9JDWAvP

73Mins

Well, this is awful.

To be honest, I really thought O’Neill should’ve been more pragmatic after the second goal. Were we likely to net twice and force a draw? We don’t have the attacking talent. So, keep it tight, take the loss and move on.

Instead, McClean goes down a cul-de-sac on the left side when he could’ve recycled and looked for possession back inside. Hazard is played through on the right, Clark gambles on the tackle and misses it. The Chelsea man walks into the area, squares for Lukaku and he puts away his second of the game.

These goals could be crucial, y’know.

Flag 76Mins

SUBSTITUTION! McGeady (on) – Hoolahan (off)

Not sure what this is designed to do but fresh legs regardless.

81Mins

A result like this puts the Sweden game into context. We should’ve won there and certainly wouldn’t have meant us heading into a game against Italy hoping other teams do us some favours.

Flag 83Mins

SUBSTITUTION! Benteke (on) – Lukaku (off)

A final change for Marc Wilmots here and it’s not a bad replacement to bring in.

88Mins

Lots of faith being placed in Ireland’s final group game against Italy because Antonio Conte will, supposedly, play his reserve side.

Probably best to remember Ireland will head into that game on the back of some major psychological trauma currently being wielded by some red shirts in Bordeaux.

90Mins

Interesting response from Belgium. They were under pressure and have made a firm statement of intent here. They still haven’t been at their best but massively helped by a below-par Ireland.

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Deeply frustrating to watch.

From the start, Ireland were deep and defending on the edge of their own area. They did well to keep it scoreless at the break, having frustrated Belgium and kept their shape quite well.

But we were picked apart in the second half.

 

Here’s some reaction from captain John O’Shea:

We were too open to the counter attack. Belgium are a good team but we still have a big chance against Italy. We know it’s going to be difficult. It’s important to take the positives from the first half and from the Sweden game. A bit more discipline and control, we can get something against Italy.

In patches, the first half was okay today. But keeping shape and compactness is something we need to work on it. When attacking, it’s a cliche but you’re at your most vulnerable. It’s something to work on. They’re not a bad side but we helped them out a bit sometimes.”

A bit of a cloud forming after that now.

We wait to hear from Martin O’Neill and we’ll hear his comments shortly.

Here’s a quick look at how the group table now looks.

Table

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Post-game reaction from Belgium.

Here’s a very humble Kevin de Bruyne.

“We needed to (give a response). As a team we needed a response to everyone who were watching the Italy game – it wasn’t good for us. Today was a very good sign and everyone was up for the task.

We knew we’d get more chances in second half and we talked at half-time that we were putting them under pressure and spaces were coming and coming. That’s what happened and we scored twice on the counter.

We knew there were two big games ahead. And there’s only half done now. It won’t be easy for us against Sweden.”

On the pre-game talk of unrest in the Belgian camp:

“If you lose a game, there will be some critiques. You have to respond. The only way to respond as footballer is on the pitch. In the end we did good as a team.”

How hard it will be for Ireland against Italy:

“To be fair, every game is difficult. I haven’t seen one team win easily. Ireland have a good team. Italy is already through. Ireland has a chance but they need to perform very well.”

Thanks for staying with us here.

No word from Martin O’Neill yet so we’ll have his reaction on the site – as well as so much more content – a little later.

About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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