EURO 2016 REACTION: Martin O'Neill targets win in Republic's last group game
Belgium coach Marc Wilmots has rounded on his critics after seeing his team blast their way into Euro 2016 form with a resounding victory over the Republic of Ireland.
The side ranked second into the world went into the game with questions being asked about the coach and dressing room harmony after a 2-0 defeat by Italy.
However, Wilmots’ men responded in style to defeat Ireland 3-0 at the Stade de Bordeaux and belatedly ignite their Group E campaign.
Wilmots said: “Well, after four years of success, when we get criticism it’s like those last four years disappear. It’s just manipulating the people, giving the people the wrong ideas.
“The team has in the past always given everything for the nation. We have got some great players and sometimes the criticism is just manipulation.
“I live with criticism, but apart from death, I don’t know what else could really affect me. I am 47, I want to be healthy. I enjoy my job, I hope to put the kids on the right path and I hope the country is proud of us.
“People being negative, that’s not interesting for me. I want to be with positive people. People who criticise are never going to have a good life.”
Wilmots made changes for the Ireland game but kept faith with striker Romelu Lukaku and midfielder Kevin de Bruyne despite hinting in midweek that he might drop both - and he reaped the rewards with De Bruyne running the game and Lukaku scoring twice either side of Axel Witsel’s 61st-minute header.
The coach said: “Yes, I bluffed. The players were aware of this, they were all aware. We waited for the right time. We spoke about this privately.”
Lukaku was more delighted with the victory than his goals, and Belgium now need only a point against Sweden on Wednesday to book their place in the last 16.
He said: “I am happy for my team-mates, that’s the most important thing. The team is what matters. If we do what we need to do on the pitch, then everything will be good.”
By contrast, the Republic will be going home at the earliest opportunity unless they can spring a major surprise and beat Italy in their final group game in Lille.
They never really got going, although they did feel they should have been awarded a penalty for a challenge on Shane Long as Thomas Vermaelen and Toby Alderweireld competed with him inside the box.
Manager Martin O’Neill said: “It’s been mentioned twice to me and I know that the players seem to be pretty adamant about it.
“I was asked a question just in one of the TV interviews just two minutes ago, would that have changed the course of the game? Naturally, it would have done if we had been given a penalty and scored.
“But I think that overall we were beaten today by a better team. We have to try to rectify that in a few days’ time.”
Ireland struggled to retain possession and were repeatedly hit on the counter-attack and they will have to be considerably better against the Italians if they are to repair the damage.
O’Neill said: “All I do know is what we have to try to do ourselves - we have to try to win the game and that can be our only thought. We must go and try to win it.
“There was talk beforehand that if you remained unbeaten in the group and ended up with three points, level goal difference, that might might have been enough.
“That has gone now, obviously, so we have a game to win and we’ll just throw absolutely everything into trying to win a game.”