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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Let’s banish Belgians

Clark says Wilmots’ side will be worried by clash with Irish in Bordeaux

Ireland defender Ciaran Clark, pictured during squad training in Versailles yesterday ahead of tomorrow’s Euro 2016 Group E clash with Belgium in Bordeaux
Ireland defender Ciaran Clark, pictured during squad training in Versailles yesterday ahead of tomorrow’s Euro 2016 Group E clash with Belgium in Bordeaux

There was a sleepless night in the Ireland camp in the aftermath of Monday’s duel with Sweden in Paris - so says defender Ciaran Clark, anyway

It’s not likely that players like Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne, two players who cost €100million between them the last time they moved clubs, are kept awake at night by the prospect of taking on Cyrus Christie - but then again, Belgium were so bad in their opening game of the finals, and the atmosphere in their camp is so poisonous, that maybe the Red Devils are finding the arms of Morpheus hard to reach.

But Clark, who looks confident and in shape despite his own goal against Sweden on Monday, claims that the Belgians, sensing Euro 2016 slip away from them, will be as concerned about Ireland as we are of them.

“We can’t build Belgium up too much,” says Clark, likely to retain his place in the back four tomorrow after an impressive display in Paris on Monday.

“We’ve got to concentrate on ourselves and we can cause them problems. I’m sure they’ll be worried about us as much as we’re worried about them.

“There will be times when both teams have spells of the ball. We need to be wary but we need to focus on our performance as well because we have some brilliant players who can cause them problems as well.

“They’ve got a number of players that can play, a top-class squad. We obviously would be aware of the talent they have got but we would be trying to concentrate on our own performance and trying to match what we put in against Sweden.”

Clark was pleased with his day’s work against the Swedes, though he did, of course, score that own goal, deflecting Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s cross past Clark’s own goalkeeper while trying to keep away Sebastian Larsson.

Qualifier

It was the first OG scored by an Ireland player in a competitive game since Kevin Kilbane put the ball past Shay Given in a World Cup qualifier at home to Bulgaria in 2009.

Yet despite good-matured ribbing from his team-mates (“There’s been a few little comments” he admits), the OG has been put to bed, Roy Keane coming out to defend Clark.

“He didn’t kill anybody. These things happen. Defenders get into position, a good delivery. We’ve seen it happen,” Keane said, and Clark too has put the moment behind him.

“It’s one of them things – when the ball comes into the box as a defender, any defender will say you’ve got to get your body in there and try to get the ball away. Unfortunately for us, it went into the bottom corner, which was obviously devastating, but we can’t think about it now, we have just got to think about the positives and look forward to the game in hand,” he says.

“The night of the game there wasn’t much sleeping, it [the own goal] was ticking over in your head. But when you wake up the next day, it’s gone, there is nothing you can do about it. We looked over it, the game in general, and we took the positives out of the game. We’ll be trying to take them into the game at the weekend.

“I think we’ve got to try and take the positives out of the [Sweden] game. We were leading and obviously the three points would have been massive. But we can’t look back on that now and think about it too much. We’ve got another game in a couple of days and we’ve got to make sure we are fully prepared for that.”

All of the coaches here in France for Euro 2016 have their foibles. Martin O’Neill’s trait is to leave everyone hanging, in terms of team selection, until close to kick-off.

“We weren’t sure of the team until just before the game. I think any one of the lads could have played,” says Clark.

“In training and whenever the lads have played, they have all done well. So obviously for me it was a real positive and I was really pleased.

“I think everyone prepares as if they are going to play. I think that how the manager wants it, he wants everyone to be prepared as if they are going to start the game and I think that’s what everyone does. In everyone’s head they get ready for the game and if they get the shout to play it’s a real bonus.”

“Leading up to the game everyone prepares their own way and everyone has got their own way. Like I say, everyone is on their toes.”

Frustrating

Everyone, in both camps, green and red ahead of tomorrow, Clark hoping that upets so far, like Iceland frustrating Portugal, can suit Ireland in Bordeaux.

“You can’t go into any game thinking you’ve won the game before a ball has even been kicked,” he says, when asked of lessons overall from Euro 2016.

“We’ve been watching the other games and teams are organised and set up really well. some of the bigger teams have found it hard to break them down and if you’ve got that organisation then it’s going to be tough for teams. We’ve been working on stuff in training and hopefully it will pay off.”

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