Big blow for Ireland as Jon Walters rated major doubt for Belgium clash

SoccerBy Sunday World
Ireland talisman Walters struggling with injury before being substituted as the Boys in Green drew 1-1 with Sweden
Ireland talisman Walters struggling with injury before being substituted as the Boys in Green drew 1-1 with Sweden

Jonathan Walters is a major doubt for the Republic of Ireland's key Euro 2016 showdown with Belgium on Saturday after aggravating his Achilles injury.

The 32-year-old Stoke City striker limped off 63 minutes into Monday night's 1-1 draw with Sweden at the Stade de France and later admitted he had been in pain from the start after a week-long battle to make himself available.

And speaking to FAI TV on Tuesday afternoon, manager Martin O'Neill said: "Jon Walters, obviously, would be the main concern. I'd say he would be pretty doubtful for the second game coming up."

The Republic cancelled their scheduled training session at their Versailles base on Tuesday morning as the players instead were put through a light recovery session, but it is understood Walters was not involved as he underwent treatment.

He will hope his tournament is not over - he seems unlikely to figure against the Belgians in Bordeaux, but will keep his fingers crossed with Italy to come in Lille on June 22 - although his injury is a concern for O'Neill.

Ireland may have to win one of their remaining games if they are to force their way out of the group after passing up the opportunity to do that against the Swedes on a night when they played well enough to claim three points, but just could not hang on to their lead.

They came within 19 minutes of victory before they were pegged back by Ciaran Clark's own goal and while there was disappointment that two points went begging, there was also satisfaction and optimism after a promising display.

O'Neill said: "Three points would have been fantastic. Like anything, when the game goes 1-1 and it absolutely and utterly opens up as it did do, then there might be a possibility of losing it.

"But we were as positive as we could be, all our substitutions were positive to try to get the goal, so the players are disappointed, but certainly not downbeat. In fact, they are actually very proud of themselves."

However, O'Neill was quick to keep feet firmly on the ground after he, the rest of the staff and the players watched the second half of Italy's 2-0 victory over the Belgians in Lyon after returning to their hotel.

The 64-year-old said: "This idea that Italy are a has-been side, I think, has been totally negated. Italy are a tournament team, we know this from years and years and years of experience.

"They are a tournament side. They qualify for competitions because they are a strong, strong footballing nation. They have got very, very good players now and they will be hard [to beat].

"Belgium have got a real set of individual players - it's whether they go and gel as a side or not. But they have individuals capable of taking you on and beating you, and they play in top-class company every single week."