Marc Wilmots denies his tactics cost Belgium in their opening game against Italy, instead citing inexperience from his players and bemoaning a negative approach from the Azzurri. If that’s really what he believes, then it’s hard to fancy the Red Devils doing anything at this tournament and the Republic of Ireland might be a spot of value to compound their misery at 9/2 here.
Reports from inside the Belgian training camp at Chateau du Haillan suggest they’ve experimented with different personnel ahead of this game, so we might see Wilmots make alterations to the starting line-up. But there’s nothing to indicate a change of formation or strategy, and that’s a worry for the team because it means the Groundhog Day scenario is only likely to continue.
Martin O’Neill might not be Antonio Conte but he does at least have an Antonio Conte blueprint to work with as his starting point. Rest assured, the Irish will have scrutinised the video of Italy’s triumph in Lyon for pointers and they will be keen to employ any facets of the Azzurri game plan that suit the personnel at their disposal.
Too much was made of their opening game with Sweden and the idea it was make or break to their chances of progression. The Irish certainly don’t see it that way and they proved by taking four points off Germany in qualifying that they can match the bigger nations when necessary and they probably even do better against the stronger teams prepared to play with a higher defensive line.
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As it was, the Swedes snatched a draw at the Stade de France without registering a single shot on target but O’Neill’s men appear to have taken that setback in their stride. Therefore, the suspicion lingers that they will remain a tough nut to crack, biding their time for one defining moment that takes them through - and that moment could easily arrive here.
As a high power distance nation, the Belgium players need intelligent direction from the manager more than most because improvisation and spontaneity aren’t natural virtues. Plus, when Wilmots’ tactics aren’t working, the culture also dictates that players will invariably suffer in silence, too respectful of hierarchy to air their grievances or demand any sort of input.
When you get any team stuck in a rut like this, moments of self-sabotage should never come as a surprise. For all of their individual talent, the Red Devils lack purpose and could, quite conceivably, bow out of this tournament without a whimper. If Ireland have it their way, then an additional bet on them to land the 1-0 correct score at 13/1 reflects the most likely route.
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