O’Neill rues Irish defending against Belgium

Bordeaux (AFP) – Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill rued his team’s sloppiness in a 3-0 defeat to Belgium at Euro 2016 on Saturday that compromised their prospects of reaching the last 16.

Ireland held the Belgians into the interval of the Group E game in Bordeaux, but Romelu Lukaku netted twice in the second half, either side of an Axel Witsel goal, as Belgium claimed a comfortable win.

“We accepted the fact that Belgium are as talented a team, individually, as any in the competition, but the goals we gave away were not great from our viewpoint,” said O’Neill, whose team started their campaign with a 1-1 draw against Sweden.

“They pushed us back but my disappointment came from the fact that against Sweden we played exceptionally well with the ball, but today when we had it we looked too nervous and gave it away too readily.

“We tried to rectify that at half-time but the disappointment came from the fact they broke on us for the first goal.

“Then you start to chase the game a bit, get stretched, and of course very fine players can punish you, and that’s what happened.”

Having frustrated Belgium in the first half, the game’s key moment arrived three minutes after the interval when Everton striker Lukaku scored following a counter-attack.

– Penalty call –

But Ireland felt they should have had a penalty just before that goal when Shane Long was caught inside the Belgian area by Toby Alderweireld’s high boot.

“I just felt a kick in the back of the head. Then they broke and scored. I can’t really comment on what I really want to say but it’s frustrating,” Long told Irish radio station Newstalk.

Before getting on the team bus to head back to the squad’s base in Versailles, near Paris, O’Neill added: “I know the players seem adamant about it but I haven’t seen it back yet.

“That is doubly disappointing if that is the case. I was asked if that would have changed the course of the game and naturally it would have done, but overall today we were beaten by a better team.”

Ireland go into their final group game against Italy in Lille next Wednesday with just one point to their name and are likely to have to win against the Azzurri to stand a chance of going through. 

However, their cause could be aided by the fact that Italy, with six points to their name, have already qualified for the last 16 as group winners.

“There are two ways of looking at this,” O’Neill added. “You can start feeling very sorry for yourself or you can take some confidence from the way you played three or four days ago (against Sweden) and take that into the game.

“We felt we could do something in this game. It didn’t materialise but now we have to go and throw everything into the match to prevent Italy from scoring and try to win the game ourselves.”

Defender and captain John O’Shea added: “We have a big chance now against Italy.

“They’ve been fantastic, but we have to take the positives from the first half and Sweden, and with a bit more discipline and control we can get something against Italy.”

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