Mick McCarthy exclusive: This Belgian side haven’t impressed me and Ireland can cut through the waffle on Saturday

The former Irish captain and manager isn't impressed by what he's seen of 'The Red Devils' and hopes Ireland can settle a score this weekend


I’ve never been convinced that Belgium are one of the best teams in the tournament to be honest. They remind me of some of the old Dutch sides that were full of amazing individual talent, but never really gelled as a team.

Wales took four points off Marc Wilmots’ side in qualifying and that should give us confidence going into this weekend’s clash.

Ireland were very good in the 1-1 draw against Sweden on Monday and if we can put on another performance like that then we’ve no reason to fear Belgium on Saturday.

The Irish lads dominated them at times and we can take far more positives than negatives from the game. And if it were me in the dressing room this weekend I’d be saying: ‘same again lads’.

Ciaran Clark was unlucky to concede an own goal, while Wes Hoolahan and Jeff Hendrick impressed me. While the lads will be disappointed it ended 1-1, it can inspire us against the Red Devils.

Wes-Hoolahan-goal v Sweden

Shoot over to all the latest betting on Ireland v Belgium 

Irish sides have proven over the years that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts when they pull the green jersey on.

And it’s that spirit we’ll need to call upon again when we face Belgium. We should go out to try and win this game like we did against Sweden.

Monday’s results have changed the whole dynamic of Group E. We came into it as the underdogs, with Belgium as the likely winners, but Saturday’s game is now a must-win for them.

If their players are up for it they’ve enough individuals to threaten any side in this tournament, but an opening-day defeat can play on the minds of fancied teams and they will be feeling sore.

If Belgium don’t start well against Ireland then we might see a team that is fractured and start to implode, arguing with each other and not playing anywhere near their pre-tournament billing. Ireland can capitalise on that disharmony if they’re not up for the fight.

There’s some talk that if we share the points with Belgium and Italy beat Sweden than we’ve a better chance of beating an Italian side with nothing left to play for.

I don’t buy that at all. Where you finish in the group determines who your opponents are in the next stage, so I don’t think there’ll be any ‘gimmes’ from Antonio Conte’s side.

Let’s just concentrate on getting the three points against Belgium that should be good enough to take us to the next stage.

If Jonathan Walters’ injury rules him out, he’ll be a big loss to us. He’s a solid, experienced, international pro who gets us goals. But that’s why our team spirit is invaluable. We can bring in players who will run through a brick wall for their country, for the greater good of the team.

I’d like to see Daryl Murphy come in if Walters is ruled out and Martin opts to go with another striker alongside  Shane Long. He’ll certainly put a shift in and offer an attacking threat – but I am a bit biased.


Our use of subs against Sweden were very positive with a striker (Robbie Keane) and two wingers (James McClean and Aiden McGeady) coming on.

The two wide men in particular helped to combat the threat of Martin Olsson down the flank when we switched to two banks of four.

I bet Keane, McClean, McGeady, Murphy and one or two others are all buzzing now as they know they’re in line for a call-up to the starting 11, if Walters misses out.

During our last campaign in Poland, Giovanni Trapattoni used the same 11 players in all three matches and they were punch-drunk by the end of it.

But the more players you have fighting for a starting berth can only be good for team spirit and morale in the camp. Players are more alive to the game if they think they’ve a chance of getting on.

Who doesn’t want to play knowing you could have the chance of scoring the goal that sends Ireland through to the next round?


Score to settle? All the latest Ireland v Belgium odds on PP.com

Who doesn’t want to play knowing you could have the chance of scoring the goal that sends Ireland through to the next round?

Anyway, we owe Belgium one. They put us out of the World Cup 98 after beating us 2-1 in the away leg after we drew 1-1 at home. Ray Houghton came off the bench and got our goal in Brussels, but they scored from a throw-in, that I still think should have gone our way to this day.

When the final whistle blew and Belgium had qualified ‘We are the Champions’ boomed out over the tanoy system. That was horrible so let’s hope we get our own back on Saturday.

What do you think?