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Wednesday 28 September 2016

Belgian talent bothers upbeat Keane

But pressure is on gifted squad following deflating loss to Italy

Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane, pictured during training in Versailles yesterday
Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane, pictured during training in Versailles yesterday

If Roy Keane is a weather vane for the mental health of Ireland’s Euro 2016 squad in France on the eve of a crunch collision with Belgium in Bordeaux, we have nothing to worry about.

Sure, he trotted out a few nice lines about how dangerous Belgium will be and even doffed his hat to Eden Hazard, the man he wanted to kick not so long ago, but his overall demeanour is uber-positive.

He’s relaxed too and that is perhaps the best sign of all.

If any aspect of the preparation for this game is causing him to fret it didn’t show and as we all know, Keane is a man who won’t hesitate to make a point if he is unhappy.

Even a drenching while running through a stair rod downpour during a thunderstorm to reach the FAI media centre in Versailles couldn’t damp down his spirits.

Before the session started, he was testing some of the backroom staff with a crossbar challenge and every time he cut a 20-yard pass across the pitch to Seamus McDonagh with precision and power, you couldn’t help let your mind drift.

Influence

How good it would be if he was still Ireland’s captain and in a position to have a direct influence on Ireland’s battle with Belgium.

It will need something like a rampant Keane to get a grip on the most gifted group of players in France. They were badly burned by Italy but that makes them an even bigger threat.

The names trip off the tongue with the familiarity engendered by our exposure to the Premier League; men like Hazard, Fellaini, De Bruyne, Dembele, Benteke, Origi, Lukaku,Vermaelen, Vertonghen and the rest are no slouches.

But they are still tagged and damned with the ‘great players, rubbish team’ judgement made on them in Brazil and indeed after the opener against Italy.

Keane won’t fall into the obvious trap and underestimate such a wonderfully talented group of players and presumably, nor will Martin O’Neill.

“We’ve got to keep an eye on Hazard. If he’s getting it off their goalkeeper then we’re probably not too worried. But if Hazard’s getting it 30/40 yards from goal. The Italians defended pretty well the other day and we’ll have to defend as well,” he said. “He’s a quality player. Whatever the criticism the guy’s had, he’d have a chance of getting in our team. He’s a talented boy.”

Despite that, there are no plans to man mark him in the same way Glenn Whelan shadowed and ultimately, cancelled out Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

“I think those days are over. People don’t even seem to man-mark Ronaldo. He’s a different type of player to Zlatan. I think Hazard is probably more capable of going by people easily, particularly in wide positions, coming in off the wing. No, he’s a different animal,” he said.

Keane accepts that Belgium have put themselves under severe pressure by not winning at least a point from the Italy game.

“If you don’t get anything from your first match, the pressure follows on. But obviously that’s where their manager has to trust the quality he’s got,” he said.

“But we can’t be worrying about the Belgian camp. We’ve got to look after ourselves.Try and get the lads well recovered enough.

“We’ve enough on our plate without worrying about what Belgium are doing or getting bogged down about how the Italians played. The Italians played a lot different to the way we’ll probably play against Belgium.”

Fatigue played a part in the Stade de France during the 1-1 draw with Sweden but Keane feels that this will not accumulate in a negative way in Irish legs. If anything, the run will have done those who haven’t played much football a lot of good.

“I think we’ll be okay. There were a lot of things going into the game - massive build up, you could say six months of build up and lads who haven’t played for a while,” he said.

“We  had a lot of lads who hadn’t played for a long time and we were coming off the back of a few injuries so I think the game will do us the world of good. It’s nice to get that proper, competitive match under your belt.

“I think we’ll be better for it. I’m not going the other way thinking we’ll be more tired. If anything, I think we’ll be sharper and better.”

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