Monday 11 December 2017

'I wish Ireland were not in Belgium's group' - Vertonghen's Euro fears

Jan Vertonghen
Jan Vertonghen

Miguel Delaney

Belgium's Jan Vertonghen believes Ireland are one of the physically strongest teams at Euro 2016 and that he would prefer if they had not been drawn in the same group.

Martin O'Neill's side face the highly-rated Belgians in the second group game, in Bordeaux on June 18, and Vertonghen says his side are prepared for a different type of test in between matches against Sweden and Italy.

"They are, physically, one of the stronger teams," Vertonghen told the Sunday Independent. "But we have some physical strength too, so we will compete with them."

Vertonghen said he is well aware of what to expect from his Premier League duels with Shane Long and Jon Walters.

"I've had some very hard games against both of them, both very strong and good players," he said. "It's another tough side. We have to be on top of our game every single time. So many of them play in the Premier League and I see them as a very strong team."

The Tottenham defender said Ireland's physical strength is a rarity in international football and added: "I wish they were not in our group!"

O'Neill believes there's a sufficient number of quality players in his squad capable of writing their name in the history books similar to Gerry Armstrong's exploits in 1982. O'Neill was a team-mate of the striker whose winner earned Northern Ireland a famous victory over the World Cup hosts Spain 34 years ago.

"Gerry had hardly played at all for Watford that particular season and was absolutely brilliant in the competition, so it can happen," reasons the 64-year-old about the Group E games against Sweden, Belgium and Italy.

"Our players should actually think 'this is my tournament, this is a chance for me'. Not to the extent of hogging the ball and the limelight but actually taking it upon yourself, saying 'I'm going to do something here'.

"Why can Shane Long not do that with his confidence as high as it's ever been in his career? Or why should Robbie Brady and Wes Hoolahan not do great in the competition?

"Why should Jon Walters not continue his great form for us? Or why should James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman not think this could be the competition that puts them on the international landmark? Go for it, I'd say.

"There are enough examples in the last four or five months, if not in the last couple of weeks with other teams, as to why you should be driving on, regardless of what you have."

O'Neill, meanwhile, says the "heavy" security presence at Euro 2016, including French police based inside the team hotel in Versailles, is a feature his squad will just have to get used to.

Last November's terror attacks in Paris, followed by three bombs in Belgium just two months ago, have heightened security fears ahead of the tournament.

While the Ireland manager is willing to embrace the strict measures imposed by UEFA, he knows it doesn't eliminate the risk of the Irish squad becoming the target of an attack by extremists.

"We've had a number of security conversations and it's going to be heavy," said O'Neill, who will lead the Irish delegation travelling to the five-star Trianon Palace on June 8.

"I think you just have to accept that, moreso than any other competition that's ever taken place, because of what's happened in the recent past, particularly Paris. You'd have to leave it to UEFA and the police. They will be as strong as they can possibly be, without being intrusive.

"They will be around the hotel, that's fine. We're in a very decent hotel and I think we'll be looked after pretty well and it's up to us to reciprocate. I think it's only right, but does that mean you are absolutely and utterly safe from things? I wouldn't imagine so."

Asked if the terror threat represented a concern heading into the tournament, the Ireland manager said: "Life is a concern. But you're going in there and hoping things are under control, as much as possible. As we know in the past, though, it's still possible for something to happen."

Sunday Indo Sport

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