Jon Walters set to miss battle with Belgium

It looks increasingly likely that Ireland will have to do without Jon Walters when they take on Belgium in their Group E game in Bordeaux on Saturday.

Walters’ Achilles problem flared up again during Monday’s 1-1 draw with Sweden and, yesterday, manager Martin O’Neill said that their “main injury concern” was “pretty doubtful for the second game”.

On Monday night, the Irish coaching staff and players got back to their Versailles base from the Stade de France in time to watch the second half of Italy’s 2-0 defeat of Belgium, and yesterday O’Neill was planning to review the game “in depth” at the team hotel.

But from what he’d already seen, the manager felt one message from the game in Lyon rang out loud and clear.

“This idea that Italy are a has-been side has been totally negated,” he said. “Italy are a tournament team, we know this from years and years of experience. They are a tournament side and they are a strong, strong footballing nation. They have very good players now and they will be hard.

“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.”

Reflecting further on the 1-1 draw with Sweden, O’Neill said: “Well, the performance was terrific. Should have gone in at half-time at least a goal in front, maybe two. But I’ve been saying this for years and years: ifs, buts, and maybes, you have to take those out of the equation. Eventually, you are where you are.

“I thought we started the second half brilliantly again. It was a great goal from Wes (Hoolahan) and we were very strong. We had to withstand some pressure that you knew the Swedes would exert on us at some stage — I don’t think you can dominate an international match for the whole period of time — but, funnily enough, I felt the time that they scored was probably when, if there’s such a thing, we were at our most comfortable.

“We had weathered that storm. They had a number of successive corner kicks that we finally cleared and there was a bit of danger from those. But the goal with about 17 or 18 minutes to go was one that came out of a situation that, really, just wasn’t in keeping with the game.

“That said, we got a little bit tired, although we fought back immediately and Jeff (Hendrick) had a chance again. But really (I’m) very, very positive and disappointed at the same time. Three points would have been fantastic. But when a game goes one-each and absolutely and utterly opens up as it did do, there might be a possibility of losing it. But we were as positive as we could be. All our substitutions were positive to try and get the goal.

“So the players are disappointed but certainly not downbeat. They’re actually very proud of themselves.”

Meanwhile, Shane Long offered his thoughts on Ronald Koeman leaving Southampton to becomeEverton manager.

“Obviously it’s disappointing to see him leave,” said the Saints striker. “Especially over the last six months he has really stuck by me and played me week in, week out. I really got on with him and I learned a lot from him. But he obviously has an opportunity to progress in his career and I wish him all the best.”

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