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Euro 2016: Belgium vs Republic of Ireland - 5 players to watch out for

A look at the potential game-changers in this Group E encounter.

Axel witsel
Axel Witsel will be key for Belgium in this important game

After being handed down a reality check by Italy, Belgium go into this Group E encounter in Euro 2016 against the Republic of Ireland on Saturday fully knowing that a football match is not played on paper but on the pitch. The star-studded Red Devils team put up a meek show against a tactically disciplined Italy as they lost 2-0 in the first match.

It is a do-or-die fixture for Belgium where a loss could send the highest ranked side in the competition packing their bags for home.

Ireland, on the other hand, are aware that they are weakest on paper in this Group of Death and will be hoping to pull out a rabbit from the hat and make it into the knockout stages.

Though Ireland let a lead slip against Sweden in the first match, they put up a good show against Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his men. The jovial spirit of the Irish crowd has been a refreshing relief in the tournament overshadowed by fan violence.

Ireland will be looking to notch up full points in Bordeaux against a Belgium side teeming with individual talent but are yet to perform on the European stage.

We take a look at five players who could make a difference in this encounter:

1) Axel Witsel

The midfielder did his job against Italy and was one of the few positives for Belgium. He played a full 90 minutes and helped his side retain possession and break up play, though he didn’t offer anything more.

The Tottenham and Everton target is a blend of physique and technique and his performance in the next match against Ireland will be crucial for Belgium.

With Belgium set to see most of the ball during the match, his job will be to stop the counter attacks from occurring. His role on the attacking front is also important as he will be responsible for the transition from defence to attack for the Red Devils. Distribution is key and will look to release the ball early to Eden Hazard or Kevin De Bruyne to work their magic.

He’ll also have to keep a keen eye on Shane Long who is expected to make the darting runs infield as long balls are directed towards him to pounce upon.

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