The draw between Sweden and Ireland was probably a result that neither wanted. With Belgium and Italy to face, both of the lower rated teams in Group E needed to rack up three points on the board. Both teams demonstrated commitment and passion, but the Irish shaved it on the amount of good chances they had. However, the Irish were denied the win by a Ciaran Clark own-goal after Zlatan Ibrahimovic, for almost the only time in the game, lost his marker.
Zlatan’s general frustration throughout the game can only be seen as a job well done by the Irish defence as the Irish central defence partnership of John O’Shea and Clark will face a Belgium forward line, all of whom play in the English Premiership.
Everton’s Romelu Lukaku played against Italy in his nation’s 2-0 defeat, but was largely ineffectual. Coming off the bench was Liverpool’s Divock Origi who looked more lively, and the other option is Origi’s Anfield team-mate Christian Benteke, who has been pushed down the pecking order for club and country of late.
Out wide, Belgium have two of the highest rated attacking players in Europe in Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne nor Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, but neither stamped their authority on the game against Italy.
Perhaps Belgium need more craft from the centre of the field with some suggesting that Marouane Fellaini would be better utilized from the bench.
On paper, Belgium’s back four, three of whom have played together since they were children, Toby Alderweireld, Thomas Vermaelen and Jan Vertonghen, should be able to thwart Ireland’s attack. However, after allowing Graziano Pellè to score the second and seal the result for the Italians, they will be up against his Southampton team mate Shane Long who looked a threat against Sweden.
If Norwich’s Wes Hoolahan can pull the strings against Belgium like he did against the Swedes then Belgium’s defence might once again be caught on the counter-attack, as they were for both goals against Italy.
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