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Friday 9 December 2016

Vincent's Red Devils in shock as Ireland await in Bordeaux clash

Belgium’s Jan Vertonghen Picture: Reuters
Belgium’s Jan Vertonghen Picture: Reuters
Thibaut Courtois Picture: Reuters

In the grim aftermath of their unexpected defeat to Italy on Monday night, Belgium's injured captain Vincent Kompany went on social media to say that true support is only shown after a defeat and told his team-mates that he was "behind them, always".

Some could only hope that Kompany was not "behind" his team from the stands in his status as an injured player but was instead at the heart of their defence. Shock and awe were the common feelings in the Belgium camp. Shock at a loss to a Italian side who had come into the tournament with little hope of success, painful awe at the prospect of another disastrous showing, carrying on the bad vibes from 2014, from a group which is said to be one of the finest squads ever assembled by the Belgians.

Kompany has been battling with injury for a long time now, but the sight of the big Manchester City man in their defence would have been more comforting than the porous back line which Marc Wilmots fielded against an Italian side which came to France with serious worries about their ability to score.

And now their Euro hopes rest on Ireland. Lose on Saturday and Belgium are out of the Euros, a cruel blow for players like de Bruyne, Hazard and Courtois to flop on the big stage again.

The Belgian players faced their media yesterday despite the loss (unlike the Irish squad who stayed away from the media even though they had avoided defeat, figure that one out) and tried to take the brickbats.

Allowed access to their social media accounts, the Red Devils had a common thread: losing to the Italians and not scoring a goal were just not expected.

"Not the result we wanted but we'll work hard to be ready for the Ireland match," said Jan Vertonghen.

"Definitely not the result we wanted. Heads up, focus and work hard to prepare for Ireland," said Axel Witsel.

"Not the start we wanted. Heads up now and fight for victory in our next games," added keeper Thibaut Courtois.

Stating the obvious is characteristic for footballers but what they plan in their heads doesn't always bear fruit.

Like Sweden expecting a handy night on Monday. Robbie Keane bristled with anger after Monday's game when he was asked by a Swedish reporter if Zlatan Ibrahimovic's crew would be disappointed at having 'only' drawn what was their easiest game of the tournament and Keane simpy said he wasnn't bothered about what Sweden thought.

The Belgians appear to have seriously underestimated Italy and should they do the same with Ireland on Saturday, this will be a very early exit for the men in red and black.

"We're in a very difficult position now, there's a lot of pressure on us. Most of all we need to make sure we take our chances. It hurts when you don't. But I'm sure we have a squad that can cope. We will be ready," said defender Jan Vertonghen.

Belgium's form in their pre-tournament friendly games was a warning. They lost to Portugal, drew with a mediocre Finland side and struggled to beat Norway and Switzerland, and perhaps the over-confident and hard-to-like boss Wilmots (how many other national team coaches have a twitter account?) should have noticed. "We made the same mistakes as in the friendly games. For the first goal we did not follow our man," says keeper Thibaut Courtois after the Italy loss.

"We were outclassed on all fronts. Tactically, technically and organisationally we came up short. This is a big disappointment, because the first match is very important. We could have done a great thing after the draw in the other match. The next two games we should be winning. We have to play better."

Struggling for form and confidence, they could really do with some Kompany in France.

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