By Kimberley Swift
- Belgium ease to convincing 3-0 win over Republic of Ireland
- Romelu Lukaku nets twice in second half hammering
BORDEAUX, FRANCE – Romelu Lukaku scored twice as Belgium produced an excellent second half display to down the Republic of Ireland.
Lukaku opened and closed the scoring, bookending Axel Witsel’s picture-perfect header, as their victory consigned Ireland to the bottom of Group E.
All three goals came on the counter attack as Belgium showed their quality when they needed it. Their performance was at times oddly laissez-faire but opportunistic when it counted, while Ireland were persistent but unconvincing up front.
After a balanced but uneventful three quarters of an hour, the action took off with the second half whistle.
Ireland were denied a penalty shout after a recklessly high challenge by Toby Alderweireld on Shane Long in the box and conceded mere seconds later. Kevin De Bruyne fed Lukaku in and the Everton striker directed his low shot coolly into the bottom corner.
Martin O’Neill’s men continued to press forward with the knowledge that a draw would be a very decent result. Their chances of salvaging anything from the match looked increasingly unlikely, however, when Witsel ghosted in to head home Thomas Meunier’s cross.
The match was effectively over when Ciaran Clark’s desperate diving challenge failed to stop Eden Hazard and left three red shirts tearing towards goal with time to choose who should take the shot. It fell to Lukaku, who once again slotted home with impressive composure.
To their credit Ireland persisted in their efforts to break down the Belgian defence, but failed to force a save out of keeper Thibaut Courtois. The waves of green-clad supporters did their best to rouse their team with several choruses of the Fields of Athenry, but to no avail.
Penalty appeal aside, Long, playing alone up front, will doubtless be left feeling frustrated at his side’s inability to feed the ball through to him.
The Republic now face a severe test in their final group match. Manager O’Neill may need to follow the example of his namesake and Northern Irish counterpart, and consider a more adventuresome reorganisation of his starting lineup.
Today’s result confirms Italy as winners of Group E and Belgium look favourites to qualify second. While their tournament is not over, Ireland will likely need to defeat the Italians on Wednesday to remain in contention.
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