Ireland planning without Jonathan Walters for crunch Belgium clash
Ireland are understood to be planning without Jonathan Walters for Saturday's crucial Euro 2016 showdown with Belgium.
Martin O'Neill said yesterday that the 32-year-old was 'pretty doubtful' for the Bordeaux encounter because of the Achilles problem that flared up in Monday's opening draw with Sweden.
However, it's believed that hope has already faded on Walters being able to participate in the showdown with Europe's highest-ranked team.
The Stoke player, the star of Ireland's qualification campaign, will be given every chance to prove his wellbeing for the concluding Group E game with Italy next Wednesday as that is viewed a more realistic target. But the odds will be stacked against him unless the problem settles considerably in the coming days.
It's a big problem for O'Neill, whose back-up frontmen Robbie Keane and Daryl Murphy both came into the tournament with question marks over their fitness. The manager could also use James McClean through the middle or look at a change in formation that would bring in an extra midfielder to his strategy.
Belgium have promised to improve their performance after their surprising 2-0 defeat to Italy. Their goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois conceded that "tactically, technically and organisationally we came up short".
Kevin de Bruyne has warned Ireland that they are ready to step things up a notch in search of six points from their remaining two fixtures.
"We as players have to first look at ourselves," he said. "None of us can say that they have played a top match.
"If next time we play our game, we'll do better. It happened, now we have to win two games. I can understand that there is a lot of negativity but all we can do is stay positive."
And Romelu Lukaku sang from the same hymn sheet, as manager Marc Wilmots came under fire.
"We have both feet on the ground and know what we have to do," said the Everton player. "A lot of people were talking before the tournament about what we can do but we faced a reality (check) today and sometimes that's good."
O'Neill will study the full game before drawing conclusions but suggested that Wilmots is finding it difficult to knit together a team packed with stars.
"Belgium have a real set of individual players," he said. "It's whether they go and gel as a side. They have individuals capable of taking you on and beating you and they play in top-class company every single week."