old foe | 

'I hope Irish public has forgiven Thierry Henry over handball', says Roberto Martinez

Belgium manager Roberto Martinez

Belgium manager Roberto Martinez

John Brennan

Irish football will run into an old foe tonight when Thierry Henry sits down beside manager Roberto Martinez in the dugout at the Aviva Stadium as Belgium take on Ireland in a friendly to mark the Centenary of the FAI.

It was more than a dozen years ago that Henry stuck out his hand to set up the winning goal in the Stade de France during a World Cup play-off. He was ‘public enemy No 1’ here back then, but Martinez is hoping the passing of the years will have healed old wounds.

“Thierry wrote beautiful stories as a player, he was a wonderful footballer, and now he is a key man in our backroom,” said the Belgian boss. “It would not be fair of me to comment on something like that which happened a long time ago.”

On the other side of Martinez tonight will be Anthony Barry, who until three months ago, was Stephen Kenny’s top coach.

“I’ve followed Anthony’s career since he was a young coach with Wigan and I was delighted to be able to get him to join us. I sense from people in Irish football that you were sorry to lose him and you would be right. But getting him to help coach Belgium is our gain.”

Stand-in Belgian captain for tonight, Youri Tielemans, said: “Anthony has already made a big impact with us in just the few days of training before this game. He is known for his work at set-pieces and we are seeing that already.”

Belgium will go to Qatar in November with perhaps a last chance of serious success for their ‘Golden Generation’. At the last two major championships, they’ve been so close, only put out by the eventual winners, France at the 2018 World Cup and Italy at last year’s Euros.

Changed team or not, Tielemans says losing against Ireland is not on his mind. “If we play well against Ireland and lose I’ll be very disappointed,” he said. “You always want both, you want the win and the performance too. We have noted a change in Ireland’s style and we have analysed it a bit, so we are really looking forward to the game in front of a full house. I know many of the Irish players from club matches and I am looking forward to it”

Martinez will meet a friendly face during the pre-match warm-up. “I’m looking forward to meeting Séamus (Coleman) for sure. When I managed at Everton he was the best right-back in the Premier League and that was down to him not me. It will be good to meet again.”

The Belgian boss, whose team have been ranked world No 1 for four years, is an admirer from afar of which Stephen Kenny is trying to do with the Irish team but warned his counterpart: “It takes a longer time at international level to get the thing right, to turn things around.”

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