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'Are you trying to suggest Ireland are favourites? I think you've been drinking'

Roy Keane has been enjoying the physicality on show at Euro 2016 so far.

Keane shares a joke with the media.
Keane shares a joke with the media.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

- Ben Blake reports from Versailles 

BELGIUM MAY HAVE slipped up in their opening Euro 2016 outing but Ireland are under no illusions about the quality in their ranks.

Seen as potential winners before a ball was kicked, Marc Wilmots’ side went down 2-0 to Italy at Parc Olympique Lyonnais and they will be looking to bounce back against Ireland on Saturday (2pm).

Despite that setback, Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane still sees their latest opponents as a “dangerous” side.

“There are not that many great teams out there at the moment,” Keane said. “But they’re a good team, a really good team. They have got some fantastic players.

“I don’t know if they’ve got much criticism from their first game, but it was always going to be difficult against Italy. They still created lots and lots of chances and we’ll have to be at our very best to try to get a decent result.

“I think it’s a bit harsh to be saying they’re not a great team because there are not too many great teams out there, but they have the potential to be a great team.

They came in as one of the favourites and you still fancy them to do well in the tournament.”

When a Belgian journalist then questioned whether Ireland might have an advantage going into the game due to the results on Matchday 1, Keane responded:

“It’s a dangerous game for us. You look at the players on paper. If you think for one minute… Are you trying to suggest that we are the favourites for the game?

“No, no. I think you’ve been drinking,” he joked.

A view of training The Ireland team training in Versailles this morning. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Martin O’Neill explained earlier in the week how Ireland’s spirited display in the draw with Sweden had given him a huge amount of pride, while also leaving him disappointed.

Similarly, right-hand man Keane was also impressed with how the players responded to the pressure of a major tournament.

“I enjoyed watching it,” he said. “You’re always worried going into a competition how a team will cope with it and the players seemed to enjoy it, which was really good. They played with a lot of freedom, which was good to see from a coaching point of view.

“We were desperate to get the second goal, we always know 1-0 is difficult to hold onto even when you’re having a good spell against Sweden.

“We knew they were going to have their good spell and we just couldn’t get through it. I think the fans enjoyed it and the atmosphere was fantastic. Both sets of supporters were brilliant and both teams really got stuck into each other.”

As someone who loved a tackle during his playing days, it doesn’t come as a huge surprise that Keane has also been enjoying watching his own players and other teams putting their bodies on the line.

“I think it has been a good tournament from the physical side of it,” said Keane.”I was watching Albania the other night and they were outstanding — physically strong, and not holding back. That’s what the game of football is about.

“We all admire a bit of skill but when you see people bodies on the line that’s great. I like that side of it.

“You’re on about our lads getting tired but that’s because they were giving everything they’ve got and that’s what you expect.

You want to see warriors out there and we’re seeing that not just in our group of players but, to be fair, in other teams too. I love watching that.”

With Jon Walters ruled out through injury, O’Neill will make at least one change to his team. Regardless of whether they stick with a diamond 4-4-2 or decide to change it up, Keane believes they will be competitive if they show the same level of application.

“Whatever formation you play in any game of football, a lot will come down to the players and how they deal with it and their attitude towards it,” he said.

“I think we’ve got good options to play in one or two different ways. It might change slightly now that Jon Walters is not available but we have played to come in. Whatever system and tactics we bring in will be down to the players and how they apply it.

“If they play with the same attitude, desire, which we know they have, and quality, which they showed against Italy for the first hour, then we’re capable of causing Belgium problems.”

Listen to The42′s Ben Blake on the 98FM Euro 2016 Daily podcast throughout the tournament 

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The last time Ireland played Belgium it ended in very controversial circumstances

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Ben Blake

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