Sunday 18 February 2018

Familiarity with Belgian players now breeds contentment for O'Shea for Bordeaux test

John O'Shea Picture: PA
John O'Shea Picture: PA
Aidan Fitzmaurice

Aidan Fitzmaurice

Some Belgians have not forgotten John O'Shea from his time as a baby-faced hopeful on loan from Manchester United to their feeder club Royal Antwerp way back in 2001.

Back then, it was de rigeur for English clubs to send young, untested pros out on loan to their subordinate clubs in the Belgian league to educate them a bit, Irish boys (O'Shea, Darron Gibson, Graham Stack) and Englishmen (Luke Chadwick) learning something about life, and football, in Belgium and then trying to make it in England.

O'Shea says he learned a lot about life, and football, when asked about his Royal Antwerp experience (2001) by curious Belgian reporters at yesterday's pre-match press conference, but the bigger issue for O'Shea -  set to captain Ireland today while winning his 113th cap - is progress for  Ireland.

Recent games in the Premier League against the likes of Hazard, de Bruyne and Lukaku are of more relevance than his spell in that port city of Antwerp 15 years ago: O'Shea enjoyed his most recent tussles with some Belgians as his Sunderland side beat Chelsea (including Courtois and Hazard) and Everton (Mr Lukaku) at the end of the Premier League season just gone.

So O'Shea's not too fussed about all the pre-match talk about the Belgians and how they will shape up in Bordeaux today. "Whatever team we face, and we will only find out and hour or so beforehand, we will know the quality they have. Whatever options they do go with, we have to be prepared, no matter what," he says.

"They have a good mix of the physicality and the skill, so whichever combination they pick it's a quality combination and we have to be prepared for it," added O'Shea, adept at taking on Belgians in the Premier League.

"It's a case where you are familiar with many of their players who play in the Premier League, so you are familiar with their attributes, but we have to just focus on ourselves. Belgium have a very talented squad but we are hoping we can cause them one or two problems, we have to be on our guard all evening as they are a very talented team," he added, with a glance at the last 16.

"We have to get more points to get to the knock-out stage, we have a chance do do that today against Belgium, that is the one we are focused on. The Italy game is in the back of our minds but we have a difficult game to face against Belgium. If they do make changes, it's not as if they are not replacing quality with quality, whatever they pick it will be good. It's a good game and one we are looking forward to."

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