Tuesday 6 December 2016

Five talking points ahead of Ireland's crunch meeting with Belgium

Published 17/06/2016 | 14:10

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill, right, and assistant manager Roy Keane keep an eye on the troops
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill, right, and assistant manager Roy Keane keep an eye on the troops

The Republic of Ireland head into their Euro 2016 showdown with Belgium knowing they need a result against the side currently sitting second in FIFA's world rankings if they are to keep their qualification hopes alive.

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Here, we take a look at some of the major talking points surrounding Saturday afternoon's Group E game.

REDEMPTION DAY?

Ciaran Clark will look back upon his first taste of a major tournament with mixed feelings. The Aston Villa defender played his part in largely shackling Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic at the Stade de France only to eventually turn the former Paris St Germain star's cross into his own net to hand the Swedes a draw. While no-one is blaming him for his unfortunate intervention, he will be keen to redress the balance.

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SHUFFLING THE PACK

Jonathan Walters' Achilles injury means Martin O'Neill will have to turn to Plan B, and he has a series of options. One would be to move Robbie Brady from full-back into a midfield position and ask Stephen Ward to step in at the back; another more adventurous approach would be to throw in winger James McClean, while a conservative choice would be to ask Stephen Quinn to add his industry in midfield.

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HAZARD-OUS WASTE?

Ireland's assistant manager Roy Keane did not mince his words when he saluted Eden Hazard's undeniable talent, but questioned his attitude after he appeared to court PSG earlier this season. Hazard is one of a series of gifted players in the Belgium squad, but question marks remain over their ability to gel as a team.

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OUR FRIENDS IN THE NORTH

The Republic headed for France with several of their players at least having recent experience of tournament football, but have only won one match at a European Championship finals, and that was back in 1988. Neighbours Northern Ireland last played on the big stage at the 1986 World Cup final, but opened their account on Thursday evening with a 2-0 victory over Ukraine, and O'Neill's men will not want to be out-done.

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IF YOU CAN DO IT AGAINST GERMANY...

When the draw was made, only the most optimistic of Ireland and Sweden fans foresaw anything other than the two nations battling it out for third place behind Belgium and Italy and in the circumstances, were targeting each other in the opening round of fixtures. Realistically, they now face the task of taking a major scalp to get through and while the odds maybe against that, the Republic did beat world champions Germany in qualification.

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