Tuesday 12 December 2017

Marc Wilmots slams critics after bluff pays off against poor Irish side

Belgium coach Marc Wilmots celebrates with Romelu Lukaku after the player scored his team's first goal in the match against the Republic. Photo: Michael Dalder/Reuters
Belgium coach Marc Wilmots celebrates with Romelu Lukaku after the player scored his team's first goal in the match against the Republic. Photo: Michael Dalder/Reuters

Damian Spellman

Belgium coach Marc Wilmots has rounded on his critics after seeing his team blast their way into Euro 2016 form yesterday.

"Well, after four years of success, when we get criticism it's like those last four years disappear," said Wilmots after his side's convincing win over Ireland. "It's just manipulating the people, giving the people the wrong ideas. The team has in the past always given everything for the nation. We have got some great players and sometimes the criticism is just manipulation.

"I live with criticism, but apart from death, I don't know what else could really affect me. I am 47, I want to be healthy. I enjoy my job, I hope to put the kids on the right path and I hope the country is proud of us.

"People being negative, that's not interesting for me. I want to be with positive people. People who criticise are never going to have a good life."

Wilmots made changes for the game following the opening-round defeat to Italy, but kept faith with striker Romelu Lukaku and midfielder Kevin De Bruyne despite hinting that he might drop both - and he reaped the rewards, with De Bruyne running the game and Lukaku scoring twice either side of Axel Witsel's 61st-minute header.

"Yes, I bluffed. The players were aware of this, they were all aware. We waited for the right time. We spoke about this privately."

Lukaku was more delighted with the victory than his goals, and Belgium now need only a point against Sweden on Wednesday to book their place in the last 16. "I am happy for my team-mates, that's the most important thing. The team is what matters. If we do what we need to do on the pitch, then everything will be good."

Read more: 'We are capable of breaking Italy down and progressing' - Martin O'Neill

Ireland never really got going, although they did feel they should have been awarded a penalty for a challenge on Shane Long as Thomas Vermaelen and Toby Alderweireld competed with him inside the box.

"It's been mentioned twice to me and I know that the players seem to be pretty adamant about it," said Martin O'Neill. "I was asked a question just in one of the TV interviews just two minutes ago, would that have changed the course of the game? Naturally, it would have done if we had been given a penalty and scored. But I think that overall, we were beaten today by a better team. We have to try to rectify that in a few days' time."

Ireland struggled to retain possession and were repeatedly hit on the counter-attack and they will have to be considerably better against the Italians if they are to repair the damage.

"All I do know is what we have to try to do ourselves - we have to try to win the game and that can be our only thought. We must go and try to win it. There was talk beforehand that if you remained unbeaten in the group and ended up with three points, level goal difference, that might have been enough. That has gone now, obviously, so we have a game to win and we'll just throw absolutely everything into trying to win a game."

Read more: Five things we learned from Republic of Ireland's defeat to Belgium

John O'Shea bemoaned Ireland's second-half showing after withstanding Belgian pressure in the opening 45 minutes. O'Shea said Ireland hoped to turn the tables at the beginning of the second.

"The big thing for us was to make sure we started the second half that bit quicker, that bit better in possession and we didn't do that," he said. "We left ourselves too open to that counter-attack. Look, Belgium are a good team, don't get me wrong, but we have a big chance now against Italy.

"Patches of the first half were OK, but not good enough in terms of how we played against Sweden and good we were on the ball. That clinical edge in terms of keeping our shape, keeping compact, especially when we're attacking, that's something we're going to have to improve on.

"We know it's difficult, Italy are a good team, but if we take the positives from the first half today and against Sweden and keep our discipline, we might get something out of the game. We'll dust ourselves down, see how everybody is and think about Italy in Lille."

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