Both teams will go into Saturday’s Group E match feeling rather deflated after their efforts in their opening matches. Belgium put in a poor performance and were soundly beaten 2-0 by Antonio Conte’s Italy, whereas Republic of Ireland will be disappointed after playing so well against Sweden that they were denied victory by Ciaran Clark’s 71st-minute own goal. Both teams need to kick on or face elimination.
There isn’t really any previous form to go on with these two teams, Belgium are unbeaten in their last six against Ireland, however, the two sides haven’t met since 1997. Belgium are strong favourites for this match but will have to put in a much stronger performance than they did against Italy. At times they looked disjointed and a bunch of individuals rather than a team.
Belgium- Courtois, Alderweireld, Denayer, Vermaelen, Vertonghen, Nainggolan, Witsel, Carrasco, De Bruyne, Hazard, Origi
Belgium have no injury concerns with Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne expected to be fully fit after suffering minor knocks. However, we should expect changes as Marc Wilmots will be searching for a better performance from his side. He has told media this week that he is unsure whether he will continue with Romelu Lukaku upfront. if he does decide to make a change Liverpool striker Divock Origi is the most likely replacement. We could also see Yannick Ferreira Carrasco come into the side in place of Dries Mertens.
Republic of Ireland- Randolph, Coleman, Clark, O’Shea, Brady, Walters, Whelan, McCarthy, Hendrick, Hoolahan, Long
All of Ireland’s early tournament injury problems seem have to cleared up, apart from one. There are still doubts over Jon Walters’ Achilles injury and it is still unknown whether he will start or not. As he was selected despite his injury we can assume that he is regarded highly by Martin O’Neill and will play if he is deemed fit enough. We shouldn’t expect to any other changes to a team that performed so well in the first match.
If he does come into the side keep an eye on Yannick Ferreira Carrasco, the Atlético Madrid man single-handedly changed the Champions League final with his presence from the bench. He drove Atlético onto the front foot and scored their equaliser in the 79th minute. Without him you could argue that Real Madrid would have completed a regulation win, an outcome that looked likely after their first half display. He is fast, skilful and can put a killer ball into the box as well as get on the end of one.
Ireland will be looking to Wes Hoolahan in attack. He ran the midfield for the Irish against Sweden and rounded off his fine performance by connecting sweetly with Seamus Coleman’s cross on the half-volley to score a sumptuous goal. With Ireland likely to be on the backfoot and defending for the most of the game it is going to be important for them to use the ball well when they do eventually get onto the attack and Hoolahan will be a key figure in doing this.
I can’t forsee any other result than a Belgium win in this one, they have a much better team on paper, this was also true for the Italy game but I do not foresee the Irish having the defensive resoluteness of the Italians and I expect them to concede. I believe Belgium will win this match 2-1.