Our analyst Sablon: Belgium need de Bruyne at his best
Michel Sablon tells SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ Belgium can beat Ireland if de Bruyne is played to his strengths
BELGIUM v REP OF IRELAND
(Tonight, 8.50pm, Singtel TV Ch 142 & StarHub TV Ch 220 - Eleven EURO)
Belgium have been criticised for looking like a bunch of individuals rather than a team in their 2-0 defeat by Italy in their first game. Do you agree with that?
SABLON: At least in that game, yes.
Usually, the team's strength is their team spirit and togetherness.
But that was just one reason for the defeat.
What are the other reasons behind Belgium's struggles?
Well, one other big reason is that the major architect of the team, Kevin de Bruyne, played way below his usual ability.
And, if he does not perform well, Belgium do not perform well.
Tactically, Belgium also had no answer to the Italians.
You could see Italy were very experienced, very disciplined and had very good tactical solutions.
They were very good without the ball, and made space very quickly and effectively when they had it.
To be honest, even at 0-0, you had the feeling Italy were going to win the match.
So do you point the finger at coach Marc Wilmots?
It's the responsibility of the coach, but also the team as well.
It's easy to say the Italians were better.
But Belgium also have to admit they were not good enough. That's the honest reply.
Do you think Wilmots has to ring the changes against Ireland?
Yes, I think so.
Maybe not so much in terms of who plays, but where and how each player plays.
Take Eden Hazard and de Bruyne, for example.
Individually, they are both very, very good players, but they should operate in different areas, not both out wide like against Italy.
Against Italy, Belgium played two defensive-minded midfielders in Axel Witsel and Radja Nainggolan, and this totally changes the style of play of the team.
Ireland are technically weaker than our players, and tactically not as strong as Italy.
But their fighting spirit and passion are very strong, so it will be difficult.
If you were Wilmots, who would you bring in?
Yannick Ferreira Carrasco would be a good option.
Introducing him as a wide striker, with Hazard on the other side, would allow de Bruyne to maybe move to the middle and have more influence.
Would you drop Romelu Lukaku, who was ineffective against Italy and missed a glorious one-on-one opportunity?
Well, Wilmots has publicly declared Lukaku is his first choice.
So I think he will play. And I think he should, too.
It was tough for Lukaku against Italy's experienced defenders, and he tends to struggle when he plays with his back to goal because he is not the best, in technical terms.
But I'm sure Wilmots will analyse the game and will instruct him to make more diagonal runs, or try to find space between the lines (of the centre backs and fullbacks)... Lukaku normally does better when he plays like this.
But he will not have it easy against the Irish defenders, who are used to playing against big, strong strikers.
Who holds the key to victory for Belgium?
I am in favour of de Bruyne, you know that. He is a fantastic player.
But I also think Hazard, who is very fast with the ball, has an important role to play.
These are two players who did not perform well in the first game, but will be very important for the second.
And I am looking forward to seeing them redeem themselves against Ireland.
- Michel Sablon is the Football Association of Singapore's technical director. The 68-year-old former Belgian FA technical director is credited for developing the blueprint that produced Belgium's current "golden generation" of footballers.
BY THE NUMBERS
6 Belgium are unbeaten in their last six matches against the Republic of Ireland.
O'Neill wary of 'wounded animals'
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill has warned his side to be prepared for a backlash, when they take on a smarting Belgium in their Group E clash in Bordeaux tonight.
Belgium, who were No. 1 in the Fifa rankings for the first three months of 2016 and second since then, suffered a 2-0 defeat by to Italy to slip to the bottom of Group E.
In contrast, a spirited Ireland side opened their campaign with a 1-1 draw with Sweden.
"Belgium are a really fine side, really fine," said O'Neill.
"Individually, they are as talented as any side in the competition.
"They are very dangerous anyway, but even more so now that they are a bit of a wounded animal.
"They will cause us problems, so we have to show the same spirit and determination again and try and play as strongly with the ball as we did the other night.
"Overall, they have the players (to hurt us). If they are disappointed with not playing well against Italy, they will feel they can rectify it."
Assistant coach Roy Keane has warned his charges to be wary of Belgian star Eden Hazard, despite the winger's disappointing season with Chelsea.
Hazard endured a difficult start to the season, but improved his form dramatically towards the end of the campaign and racked up four goals in his last five league games.
"I don't know what's going on at club level with the guy, but he's a talented boy," former Manchester United captain Keane said.
"But it does happen, players have dips in form. He's still an absolutely dangerous player and he showed a bit of better form before the end of the season for Chelsea. We'll have to keep an eye on him."
Hazard was just one of many Belgium players who underperformed against Italy in the first game.
Striker Romelu Lukaku's profligacy in front of goal also contributed to that loss and coach Wilmots has indicated that, with Michy Batshuayi, Divock Origi and Christian Benteke all waiting in the wings, the Everton striker could be dropped against Ireland.
"Other strikers are working very well in training and will maybe get their chance," Wilmots said at the Belgian base before implicitly criticising Lukaku's work-rate.
"I want more pressure on the opposition defence. I watched Romania's striker (Florin Andone) against France. He works hard for the team. That's important."
One thing is certain - Wilmots will not veer from his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation.
"You can lose one match, you can lose two matches. I will leave everyone else to judge whether we have been good or not, but I won't change my philosophy," said the 47-year-old coach.
"This is a four-year project. We can't let one defeat call into question everything we have accomplished." - Wire Services.
Dempsey sends US into Copa semi-finals
COPA AMERICA QUARTER-FINAL
UNITED STATES 2
Clint Dempsey struck again as the United States powered through to the semi-finals of the Copa America Centenario in a 2-0 win over Ecuador yesterday morning (Singapore time) that saw both sides finish with 10 men.
Dempsey scored his third goal in as many games for Juergen Klinsmann's side at CenturyLink Field, pouncing on 22 minutes before setting up a second for Gyasi Zardes in the 65th minute.
Michael Arroyo pulled a goal back for Ecuador in the 74th minute to set up a frantic finale, but the US held on and will now face either Argentina or Venezuela in the semi-finals in Houston next week. - AFP.