Sunday 4 December 2016

We're in with a shout - O'Neill

Published 18/06/2016 | 02:30

Robbie Brady in good spirits yesterday during the final training session ahead of today’s
clash with Belgium at the Stade de Bordeaux Picture: PA
Robbie Brady in good spirits yesterday during the final training session ahead of today’s clash with Belgium at the Stade de Bordeaux Picture: PA

Martin O'Neill has warned his players that a repeat of the casual spell that cost Ireland three points on Monday could have disastrous implications against Belgium today.

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But the 64-year-old believes that his team have the collective strength to surprise a side that he views as potential winners of the competition if they can maintain concentration levels.

In addition to the threat presented by the highest-ranked side in the tournament, Ireland will also have to cope with a pitch that is cutting up due to heavy rain levels that have affected the surface at Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux with O'Neill closely inspecting some problematic areas during his team's warm-up session last night.

"If we don't get a result, it won't be through lack of endeavour," said the Irish boss, who was asked for parallels with the win over Germany last October but ended up referencing the draw with Sweden at the Stade de France.

"These are big games for us and we have to be ready for them. We can't afford 15-20-minute spells where we fall into a lull, particularly against these sides who have a lot of talent at their disposal. Belgium are very talented, their players are all at the top level of club football and they might look at us and feel some of our players aren't at the same level. Individually, if they went on to win the competition it wouldn't be a major surprise.

"They may think they have an advantage, but it doesn't always work out like that. I think our team have drawn great strength from the way they played on Monday."

By contrast, top seeds Belgium are under fire because of how they performed in their loss to Italy later that evening.

Sweeping

The authority of manager Marc Wilmots has been questioned, and he is contemplating making sweeping changes with Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne one of those under threat.

Liverpool's Christian Benteke is expected to come into the side ahead of Romelu Lukaku with Belgium badly in need of three points. Italy's win over Sweden means they will top the group unless Ireland win their remaining two matches.

Antonio Conte plans to rotate his team for the Lille date with O'Neill's side next Wednesday but the Irish camp believe they are capable of shaping their own destiny.

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