Wednesday 28 September 2016

Deflated Green Army down but not out after Belgium disaster as they get set to march on Lille for Italian job

Ralph Riegel and Wayne O'Connor

Published 19/06/2016 | 02:30

Fans held spellbound in the Living Room bar in Dublin city centre. Photo: PA
Fans held spellbound in the Living Room bar in Dublin city centre. Photo: PA

Ireland is planning an Italian job in Lille as their final Euro 2016 group game will now determine the team's fate in France.

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A brave Irish side fell to a 3-0 defeat to favourites Belgium in Bordeaux last night as security once again came to dominate the tournament.

Despite the defeat, Ireland can still possibly qualify for the last 16 if they beat the Italians, who have already made it through, in Wednesday's match in Lille on the French-Belgian border.

Belgian police arrested 12 people in Brussels and other cities as they foiled a suspected terror attack linked to the Ireland-Belgium game.

While no weapons or explosives were recovered during the 40 raids, Belgian intelligence sources believe the group were planning attacks in special areas set up for Belgian fans in Brussels, Antwerp and Charleroi.

More than 150 garages and lock-ups were searched by Belgian police.

FAI chief executive John Delaney and Emma English take some time out during yesterday’s match. Photo: PA
FAI chief executive John Delaney and Emma English take some time out during yesterday’s match. Photo: PA

However, there was no link to Euro 2016 venues in France.

More than 30,000 Irish citizens live in Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands though a substantial portion are now in France for Euro 2016.

Last night, Irish fans in Bordeaux put a brave face on the heavy Belgian defeat for the Green Army.

Jimmy Sinnott and Mary Browne from Wexford battled to hide their disappointment: "It was always going to be tough because Belgium needed a result."

Irish fans in Bordeaux before the game
Irish fans in Bordeaux before the game

Ailbhe Byrne and Cian Farrelly from Dublin said they remained confident ahead of the Italy clash.

"It is a bit deflating but we'll keep on going," said Cian.

"The atmosphere was still brilliant in the fanzone and we outnumbered the Belgians massively," added Ailbhe.

"Bring on the Italians. We should have beaten the Swedes, but at least we've had a great time.

Disbelief: Scores of fans who had gathered in Dublin’s Copper Face Jacks were left slack-jawed in disbelief as Ireland’s Euro odyssey now hangs by a thread after a 3-0 defeat to Belgium. In the end, Martin O’Neill’s charges were simply outplayed by a superstar squad. Now we can only hope for a minor miracle against the Italians — and a much-needed smile from the gods. Pictured is one of the fans in Harcourt Street watching the game yesterday. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Disbelief: Scores of fans who had gathered in Dublin’s Copper Face Jacks were left slack-jawed in disbelief as Ireland’s Euro odyssey now hangs by a thread after a 3-0 defeat to Belgium. In the end, Martin O’Neill’s charges were simply outplayed by a superstar squad. Now we can only hope for a minor miracle against the Italians — and a much-needed smile from the gods. Pictured is one of the fans in Harcourt Street watching the game yesterday. Photo: Fergal Phillips

"Bordeaux is a great city. We've had a brilliant time with the Belgians and the sun came out, so it's not all bad."

Tara Farrell from Wexford refused to have her spirits dampened by the result.

"We've had an amazing time, so I'm not that disappointed.

"We are heading up to Lille on Monday, so hopefully we will have as much fun up there.

"The Italians better watch out," she warned.

Defeat is etched on the faces of fans Colm Nolan, Darragh O’Connor and Mick Fennell at the Goat pub, Goatstown
Defeat is etched on the faces of fans Colm Nolan, Darragh O’Connor and Mick Fennell at the Goat pub, Goatstown

The Belgian terror raids prompted yet another tightening of security across France for Euro 2016 following the killing last Monday of a French police commander and his wife in an horrific attack outside Paris by an Islamic State militant.

The attacker had vowed: "The Euros will be a graveyard."

However, the only security issue so far has involved fan violence between Russian, English, French and German supporters.

Anxious fans Julie Allison, Keith Elliott and John McGrath at the Goat
Anxious fans Julie Allison, Keith Elliott and John McGrath at the Goat

Irish fans have been universally praised across France for their good behaviour over the first nine days of the tournament.

An estimated 80,000 Irish people travelled to Bordeaux, La Rochelle, Royan and Arcachon for Ireland's match at the brand-new Girondins stadium.

However, less than 20,000 managed to secure tickets.

An estimated 20,000 Irish fans partied in the Bordeaux fanzone amid sunshine and showers, while thousands others watched the game in campsites along France's Atlantic coast.

Fans entering the stadium had to pass through three separate security checks.

At the fanzone just off Bordeaux city centre, fans were not allowed access with bottles, laptops, large cameras, flag poles, flares or rucksacks.

All were also subjected to personal searches.

The fanzone was ringed with both local police and gendarmes - and armed French soldiers patrolled the city centre.

However, the atmosphere between Belgian and Irish fans mirrored the good-natured rapport with Swedish fans in Paris. "Belgians love the Irish because they party, win, lose or draw," stressed Eric Mehrtens from Namur.

The Green Army has been praised by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and Bordeaux Mayor Alain Juppe for their trouble-free, fun-focussed attitude.

Bordeaux Prefect Pierre Dartout said the Irish and Belgian fans were very well behaved with the match always assessed as low-risk at Euro 2016.

The incredible atmosphere in Bordeaux was also praised by Robbie Keane's wife, Claudine. "All the fans have been incredible," she said. "It is great to see the green and all the fans out singing and dancing. My son (Robert Jnr) is having a ball. Bordeaux is an absolutely beautiful city," she said.

Bordeaux also hosted a number of Irish celebrities and politicians, including Ministers Shane Ross and Finian McGrath, comedian Karl Spain, Keith Duffy and a former Irish international stars, including Gary Breen.

President Michael D Higgins will attend Ireland's final Euro 16 group game against Italy in Lille on Wednesday.

Sunday Independent

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