Saturday 22 October 2016

Courtois backs his under-fire Belgium side to cope

Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois
Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois

Belgium's footballers have had a lot of praise come their way over the last few years, since this golden generation of undoubtedly gifted players came on stream.

They've had little but criticism and barbs over the last few months though, an insipid warm-up programme for the Euros leading to defeat to Italy in their opening game of the group.

All through last season at club level, Thibaut Courtois played for a side which had limitless talent and great expectations but who ultimately flopped with their manager, Jose Mourinho, losing his job.

So he's used to p ressure, and he maintains that, whatever about the boys in blue at Chelsea, his Red Devils can deal with the pressure.

"If we are at our best level as a side then people say we are one of the best. Suddenly when you lose you are one of the worst. That's football. We are professionals and we are relaxed about that. We know the attributes we have and we are going to show that," he says ahead of this meeting with Ireland in Bordeaux today.

He knows that his side are expected to win, and win well, against the Irish today. But, then again, Chelsea were supposed to retain their league title and challenge for the Champions League last term and and everyone knows what happened next.

Courtois has been burned, in terms of taking Premier League points, by the Irish boys at Stoke and Everton, so he issues a note of caution, the keeper aware that Portugal dropped unexpected points against little Iceland, though his comments are also back-boned by his confidence that the Belgians can triumph.

No easy games

"We've seen in the [Euro 2016] matches already that there aren't any easy games and games are being won towards the end," he says, also referring to France's hard-fought and late win over Albania.

"If you look in the Premier League, the top sides don't always win easily against those lower down so we must not think it will be an easy game.

"Yes we are favourites but I am hoping we get a good result and we come way from here with the win.

"In the box we have to be sharper to score goals - in the few friendlies we had we were sometimes lacking that. Ireland is a big game, We know their players and what they will do. They will fight for every metre and every ball. We have to do our best to win that game, We have to win."

He's also played against Shane Long, so the man from Tipperary is of course a threat to the Chelsea keeper. "At first sight you see Shane Long and he is just a short striker, but he is good in the air, quick and dangerous and he scores goals," added Courtois.

"It is tough to compare him to our players, but he is at the same level. He has scored a lot of goals at Southampton and we need to keep an eye on him."

The Belgian players are under pressure but coach Marc Wilmots even more so. He played in the Red Devils side which had a narrow win over Ireland in a play-off for the 1998 World Cup and while he would settle for a repeat result - a Belgian win - today he is aware of the pressure on his side.

"I'm not concerned. That's all part of the football circus," says Wilmots.

"I don't believe players are leaking information. This a game that goes on behind the scenes but it is not a problem for me."

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