After dropping their 1st match to Italy 2-0, Belgium was under a lot of pressure to secure all 3 points vs Ireland. The Belgian squad was definitely disappointed with both their performance and the result against the Azzurri. Belgium entered today's game as heavy favourites. The Belgian team is the most expensive squad ever assembled for a European tournament. On their side, the Irish do not have the big names that Belgium has but they have their boisterous fans and the confidence carried over from their impressive 1-1 draw vs Sweden.
For Belgium's 2nd game, Ciman fell victim to Marc Wilmots' tinkering. The Impact's center back was put on the subs list and replaced by the 24 year old Thomas Meunier from Club Brugge.
Over the course of the first 45 minutes, the play was definitely controlled by the Belgian squad. Belgium also controlled possession in the opening minutes of the Italy game, but did not manage many concrete scoring opportunities. However, in this game versus the lads in green, the Belgians managed to play the ball into the box on a few occasions but could not capitalize on their opportunities. A notable scoring opportunity for Belgium originated from the golden boot of Eden Hazard. After a cross was played into the box and deflected by a green defender, the ball fell to Chelsea's star winger. Hazard attempted a half volley that sailed up and to the right of Ireland's net.
The service from free kicks and corners was exceptional from the young Kevin De Bruyne. But even when the ball was well delivered into the box, the finishing was lacking from Belgium. The failure to convert on set pieces was partly due to Romelu Lukaku's disappointing first half. The 6'3" man from Everton did not seem implicated in the play. He did not attack crosses or continue his runs towards Ireland's goal. It simply seemed like Lukaku did not have energy or drive in the first half.
Lukaku obviously heard what I had to say about his first half performance because he showed desire and implication on Belgium's 1st goal of the match. In the 47th minute, Lukaku recovered possession after a chance by Ireland. The striker then played the ball onto De Bruyne. The young man then escaped a few challenges before returning the favor to Lukaku who armed a strike from just outside the penalty area that beat the Irish keeper to his right.
Belgium's 1st goal seemed to open up the game. In response to Belgium taking the lead, Ireland started to commit more bodies forward in order to attempt to salvage a point. In the 61st minute, it was Axel Witsel's turn to net one for Belgium. A nicely placed ball was sent in from Ciman's replacement, Thomas Meunier directly into the path of Witsel who buried it to double the red devils lead.
Belgium nailed Ireland' coffin shut in the 70th minute. It was once again Lukaku who scored. It seemed as though he was attempting to make up for his disappointing first half. Eden Hazard masterfully dribbled the ball down the right sideline on a deadly counter attack for Belgium. Hazard then found himself in a 2 on 1 position with the Everton striker. Hazard unselfishly paced the ball to the tall striker who buried his 2nd of the match from 8 yards out.
Thomas Meunier, who replaced Ciman at right back for Belgium, had a very strong game. Meunier, who plays for Club Brugge in the Pro League is a young natural right back unlike Ciman who is accustomed to playing at center back. Aside from his strong defensive contribution, Meunier was also implicated in Belgium's offense with well-timed runs down his right flank. It was also Meunier who sent in the perfect cross on Witsel's goal in the 61st minute. It will be difficult for Ciman to get back into the starting line-up after Meunier's impressive performance. Ciman's advantages are his experience, his great defending and his physical presence but he lacks the offensive flair that Meunier seems to possess. I wish Ciman the best of luck in once again cracking the starting 11.