Saturday 18 June 2016, 22:05

Belgium back on track, all to play for in Group F

THE DAY REPLAYED - Belgium moved firmly into contention in Group E, registering their first UEFA EURO finals win in 16 years as they produced a commanding performance against Republic of Ireland. In the day’s two games in Group F, meanwhile, the points were shared, with Iceland and Hungary playing out a 1-1 draw, and Portugal underperforming once more in a goalless stalemate with Austria. rounds up Saturday’s three matches.

The day’s results Belgium 3-0 Republic of Ireland Iceland 1-1 Hungary Portugal 0-0 Austria

The analysis Belgium recovered from their slip-up against Italy to ease past Republic of Ireland, thanks in no small part to convincing performances from Romelu Lukaku and Kevin de Bruyne, two stars who had failed to shine against the Italians. While Lukaku helped himself to a brace, De Bruyne was back to his precise best and added another assist to his growing collection. Named man of the match, Axel Witsel headed the Belgians’ other goal from a Thomas Meunier cross. Full of energy and attacking intent in the 1-1 draw with Sweden, the Irish were overrun by Les Diables Rouges in the second half, having defended stoutly in the first.

Following their baptism of fire against Portugal, tournament newcomers Iceland recorded their second 1-1 draw against Hungary, though they were less content with the result on this occasion. Happy once more to sit back and let their opponents have possession, the Icelanders again proved themselves to be an effective counter-attacking side. The gameplan seemed to be working to perfection, as they blunted the Hungarian attack time and again and even managed to take the lead through a Gylfi Sigurdsson penalty just before half-time. Laying siege to the Iceland goal late on, Hungary finally earned some reward and a point when Birkir Saevarsson put through his own goal.

Portugal endured a disappointing night as Austria held them to a goalless draw. Nani hit the post, Cristiano Ronaldo did likewise from the spot, and Robert Almer did his bit to frustrate the Portuguese fans by keeping out a host of other chances. Though Ronaldo and Co did everything they could to break the deadlock and were technically superior to their hardworking opponents, they were left to rue a slight lack of composure and spark. Austria, who managed just one shot on target, courtesy of Stefan Ilsanker, remain very much in the race for places in the last 16, while Portugal can still top Group F, provided that they beat Hungary in their final game.

Highlight of the day Belgium made the most of the space afforded to them by Republic of Ireland in the second half. Denied that precious commodity by the Italians in their opening game and by the Irish in the opening 45 minutes, when only Eden Hazard came close to breaking down a stubborn defence and converting their monopoly of the ball into a goal, Marc Wilmots’ side found the freedom they craved after the restart. No one revelled in it more than Lukaku, who rounded off a textbook counter-attack to open the scoring. The lightning break began when Thomas Vermaelen won the ball back deep in his own half and found De Bruyne, who capped a galloping 75-metre run with a pinpoint pass that Lukaku coolly slotted into the corner of the Irish net.

The stat 128 - the number of appearances Ronaldo has now made for Portugal, a new national record. In turning out against the Austrians, the 31-year-old, who made his international debut against Kazakhstan on 20 August 2003, overtook Luis Figo as the country’s most-capped player.

What they said “I’ve always liked to play the type of football where you create chances, but we lacked precision. We dominated the game but we didn’t have any clear-cut opportunities, and Iceland defended well. Hungarian people still live in the past a little. These players need a little time. There’s a lot of euphoria around at the moment, and we need to develop the team for the World Cup.” Hungary coach Bernd Storck* *

Next matchday**Sunday 19 June (all times local)

Group A Romania-Albania (21.00) Switzerland-France (21.00)