Belgium head coach Marc Wilmots insists he remains optimistic ahead of his country’s Euro 2016 clash against Republic of Ireland on Saturday despite making an underwhelming start to the tournament.
Regarded as pre-tournament candidates to win the European title due to the presence of high-profile names such as Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard, Belgium failed to impress in their Group E opener as they were beaten 2-0 by Italy.
Wilmots’ men were heavily criticised for their poor start, but the 47-year-old is adamant it was not all bad in Lyon.
“We have moved on from the disappointing defeat versus Italy and we are now fully focused on the game against Ireland,” Wilmots said at a news conference.
“I saw room for improvement against Italy, but that does not mean everything was bad about that game. I saw plenty of reasons for optimism as well. Let’s not forget about that.”
Wilmots gave Romelu Lukaku the nod in attack against Italy, but he could drop the Everton star for the encounter with Ireland.
“I don’t know yet whether Romelu will start again. I will have to think about the line-up,” the Belgium boss added.
“It’s not like all his confidence is gone all of a sudden after the match versus Italy. I have a number of options, though, and we will see which one is the best.
“The other strikers have been doing well in training too and they might get their chance. It is not about Lukaku or anyone else – it is about the team.”
De Bruyne and captain Hazard trained individually in the build-up to the game due to minor injury problems, but are both expected to be fit to face Ireland.
Ireland, meanwhile, put in a strong performance against Sweden on matchday one, even if they had to settle for a 1-1 draw.
Norwich City winger Robbie Brady is hopeful they can replicate that form against Belgium and is adamant the Irish do not fear their star-studded opponents.
“There is nothing to fear – we can’t have any fear going into these games,” Brady said at a news conference.
“I’m not sure what they are feeling. We know they’re a top-class team and they’ll be coming in prepared. I’m sure they’ll be wanting to pick up some sort of result but we’ll be concentrating on ourselves.
“We’ve got players who can hurt teams, like we showed the other night. Hopefully we can show what we’re about as well and try and shut out what they’ve got.
“They’re obviously going to be coming to win, as we are. We’ll just be doing our part to get ready for them.”
Ireland face a tough task to get the full three points against Belgium, though, having been unable to beat them in their past six meetings.
The two nations have not faced each other since November 1997, when Belgium recorded a 2-1 victory in a World Cup qualifier.
Key Opta stats:
– Belgium have lost six of their last eight games at the European championship, losing their last three by the same 0-2 scoreline.
– Republic of Ireland have never scored more than one goal in a game at the Euros.
– Eden Hazard has yet to score in 458 minutes at major tournaments (World Cup + Euro).
– Republic of Ireland won their first game at the Euros (1-0 versus England in 1988), but have failed to win any of their subsequent six games (drawing two, losing four).
– Robbie Keane has scored 11 goals in his last 13 starts with the Republic of Ireland.
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