EURO 2016

Aldo: I can't fault Martin or Roy, Belgium were just better

EURO 2016By John Aldridge
Martin O'Neill looks down during Ireland's defeat to Belgium
Martin O'Neill looks down during Ireland's defeat to Belgium

MARTIN O’Neill may come under fire after Ireland’s Euro 2016 hammering at the hands of Belgium – but I would not point an accusing finger of blame at the manager.

Belgium were better than us, pure and simple, and while I take no pleasure in writing that line, it is a reality we simply have to accept.

O’Neill will accept it as well, as his hopes of a famous win against a top quality Belgian side were well and truly snuffed out.

Is that the manager’s fault? Often we say the man calling the shots on the touchline needs to be criticised after a big defeat like that, but I’m not sure anyone could do a better job than O’Neill.

He is picking the best players available to him and we are up against opponents that have a little more class than Ireland at the moment. 

Inevitably, that chasm in ability is going to catch us out sooner rather than later and the mood of optimism was burst long before the final whistle yesterday.

I’m not going to slag off the Ireland players because they did their best against quality opposition and, for the opening 45 minutes, we did well to keep a clean sheet.

Yet we could see a difference in class between the two sides when Belgium were on the ball and some slack defending cost us dearly as Belgium fired three daggers through our hearts.

We didn’t play well. You don’t need me to tell you that, but what more could O’Neill and his assistant Roy Keane do here?

He has to pick Shane Long because he’s clearly our leading striker, but the way the team is set-up is not playing to Shane’s strength.

I’m sure there will be some people having a pop at Long as he has struggled to get involved in the first two games of Euro 2016, but I know what it is like to be playing up front in an Ireland team hitting long balls up to you.

It is a thankless task and Shane gave his all to the cause, but he is not a player who thrives on trying to out-muscle powerful defenders in an aerial battle. 

A little like myself, he needs through balls to his feet so he can use his pace, but Ireland did not have enough of the ball to give Long what he needed.

Using Robbie Brady in a wide role was a bold move by O’Neill and it didn’t really work for the same reasons. We needed more of the ball to get our attacking players into the game, but we were not good enough to hold on to it for extended periods.

If there is an area of criticism, then maybe it could be with the defenders, who made mistakes for the Belgium goals. They were under big pressure. In the end, they cracked.

What a let down, I was so upbeat about the positive performance we put in against Sweden on Monday and the two points dropped in that game now seem to be even more significant after the Belgium result.

Yet there is no point in lamenting what might have been as we need to regroup and be positive ahead of the final group game against Italy.

Hard though it is to believe after Saturday’s result, Ireland are still in this competition and we need to try and grind out a 1-0 win against a decent Italy side in Lille and could, maybe, be enough to take us through to the next round.

However, this result will dent our confidence and O’Neill has a huge task on his hands to try and get his players back in the right frame of mind for one final push.

Our fantastic Irish fans will back the team all the way in the final match and if there was a prize for the finest support in Euro 2016, then there is no doubt that we would be in the final.

Sadly, the team we have at the moment is not quite matching the brilliance of the green army in the stands, but I want us all to keep the faith going into this last match against Italy.