Euro 2016: Counter-attacking masterclass sees Belgium thrash Republic of Ireland 3-0
Romelu Lukaku grabbed a second-half brace while Axel Witsel also scored to give the Red Devils the win
Belgium beat the Republic of Ireland 3-0 in their second Group E encounter at UEFA Euro 2016 at the Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux on Saturday. A second half brace from Romelu Lukaku and a goal from Axel Witsel saw Marc Wilmots’ side claim their first points to move out of the bottom of the group.
Belgium: Courtois; Meunier, Alderweireld, Vermaelen, Vertonghen; Witsel, Dembele; Hazard, De Bruyne, Carrasco; R. Lukaku.
Republic of Ireland: Randolph; Coleman, Clark, O'Shea, Ward; Brady, Whelan, McCarthy, Hendrick, Hoolahan; Long
With Jonathan Walters out with an injury, Martin O’Neill made one change as Stephen Ward came in at left-back while Robbie Brady was pushed up to a left wing role. The Irish side, playing in white shirts and green shorts, were initially deployed in a 4-5-1 formation with Shane Long playing up front and Wes Hoolahan behind him.
On the other hand, Marc Wilmots made a few changes after the 2-0 loss to Italy. Yannick Carrasco came in for Marouane Fellaini while Mousa Dembele started in midfield in place of Radja Nainggolan. Thomas Meunier also started at right-back instead of Laurent Ciman. Thomas Vermaelen and Toby Alderweireld were deployed as the centre-backs with Jan Vertonghen playing in the left-back role.
Belgium dominate first half but fail to score
The Red Devils were impressive right from kickoff and looked a much different side than the one that struggled against Italy. The attacking trio of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Carrasco were creating problems in the final third time and again, keeping the Irish defence on their toes throughout.
Belgium dominated possession and Ireland rarely forayed into Belgium’s half. When the Belgian wingers were outnumbered against Ireland, the full-backs tried to overlap and stretch the defence, especially Vertonghen. But his crosses into the box were not up to the mark to allow Lukaku and co to get a shot on goal.
Although Ireland had crowded the midfield, they were unable to get the ball forward and Long had to drop deep to receive the ball. The only time they threatened to score was when they won a couple of corner kicks that went to waste as Thibaut Courtois made short work of their attempts before launching counter-attacks for the forwards.
De Bruyne was the key player in initiating attacks and he even managed to find Carrasco whose first shot on goal was deflected onto the bar by goalkeeper Darren Randolph before he headed in the rebound. Unfortunately, his joy was short-lived as the linesman’s flag had gone up for offside. However, the Manchester City midfielder continued to supply crosses into the box and even Meunier had a header on goal from a corner but it went wide of the target.
Belgium run riot in second half
Wilmots’s side were clearly fired up after the break and took the lead within three minutes of kickoff. A blistering counter-attack saw De Bruyne sprint down the right flank with the ball before cutting it back to Romelu Lukaku in the centre. The striker took a touch to control the ball and then let fly a strike from outside the box that beat a diving Randolph to find the bottom left corner and give the Red Devils the lead.
Dembele had to be substituted just before the hour mark when the Tottenham midfielder went down with an injury while going in for a tackle on Hendrick. Nainggolan took his place for the last half hour as Belgium looked to consolidate their lead.
But they did more than that and doubled their lead a couple of minutes later. Meunier’s cross from the right flank was directed into the box and between the two centre-backs where Axel Witsel climbed above them to direct a header past Randolph. The patient build up for the goal itself saw the team string together 28 passes before the Zenit Saint Petersburg midfielder found the back of the net.
It did not take long for Belgium to get a third, this time with Eden Hazard supplying the fireworks. Another counter-attack saw the Chelsea forward ride a tackle at the half-line and advance into Ireland’s half with Lukaku and De Bruyne joining him to make it a 3-on-1 situation. Hazard simply slipped the ball to Romelu Lukaku who beat Randolph for a second time in the game to make it 3-0.
Robbie Keane soon came on to revive the Republic of Ireland’s attack and he had a little more than 10 minutes to at least improve their chances of finishing third, if not win the game. However, Belgium managed to keep the Irish attack at bay and kept a clean sheet to get three valuable points.