O’Neill: Little Hazard amongst best in world

Date published: Wednesday 15th June 2016 3:07

Martin O’Neill has warned his Republic of Ireland team they will face the best group of players at Euro 2016 on Saturday as they try to force their way into the knock-out stages.

Ireland will line-up against Belgium in Bordeaux in their second fixture sitting above the team ranked second by FIFA by virtue of the point they gained from Monday night’s 1-1 draw with Sweden.

The Belgians, who boast a wealth of individual talent including Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, went down 2-0 to Italy later the same evening and, as a result, their need is pressing and O’Neill has no doubts about what lies ahead for his men.

He said: “They have, I think myself if you look at them, I think they are possibly the most talented set of individual players at the tournament, that would be my view of them.

“Little Hazard is one of the best players playing in the world at this minute. They’ve got talent and players playing big, big matches every single week at club level so we have to cope with that.

“I think they are very, very dangerous. The Italian game was obviously going to be difficult anyway. They had three or four chances in the game to score, didn’t take them.

“It will be a tough night for us. We want to try to make it as tough for them as well.”

Ireland will arrive in Bordeaux buoyed by the quality of their performance against the Swedes after they took the game by the scruff of the neck and led deservedly through Wes Hoolahan’s strike before a Ciaran Clark own goal cost them two precious points.

Victory in either of their two remaining Group E fixtures would give them every chance of qualifying for the last 16 and while that may be easier said than done, that will be their approach as they prepare for Saturday’s showdown.

O’Neill said: “When the group was announced, I think that Belgium finishing any worse than second is not something that they would have contemplated, so they will be coming out all guns blazing.

“We have to deal with that and the individual threat from them that they have got in abundance.

“We’re going to have to show the same sort of attitude again.

“Showing the same attitude I don’t think is a problem for us because we have to go and compete, go and be strong and be confident again on the ball. If the game against Sweden doesn’t give you a lift, nothing will.”

Asked by a Belgian journalist what victory would mean to him, O’Neill said: “If we win against Belgium, I think that four points would take us into a group of teams that might qualify.”

The 64-year-old was in relaxed mood as he conducted his media duties in Versailles on Wednesday afternoon despite security at the Republic’s Stade de Montbauron training base having been stepped up after the murder of two police officials by a man claiming allegiance to Islamic State in nearby Magnanville on Monday evening.

Indeed, he admitted he was not aware of any increase in the level of protection with armed guards already patrolling the team hotel.

The players and staff were given time off on Tuesday afternoon with some taking the opportunity to meet up with their families.

O’Neill said with a smile: “I saw my own family for about 10 minutes. That’s quite sufficient, I must admit – it was quite sufficient for them, anyway. My daughter was delighted to see me, I’m not so sure my wife was, but nothing changes.”

Meanwhile, O’Neill confirmed that Jonathan Walters is extremely unlikely to be involved in the Belgium game because of his Achilles injury, but is hopeful of being fit to face Italy next Wednesday evening.

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