A gut-wrenching evocation of the misery of Euro 2012. Ireland arrived for a point and staunchly set out their stall, happily ceding the ball to the Belgians for the first-half. Following the brilliant start against Sweden, Ireland treated the ball with extreme suspicion, bypassing midfield for virtually for most of the game. Ireland hit 50 Long balls (in more ways than one) across the game. Belgium, with Marouane Fellaini catching fluff in his afro on the sideline opassed the ball well, with Kevin De Bruyne a menacing presence between the lines.
Regardless of the merits of Ireland sitting deep in the first-half, the committing of too many bodies forward eventually hoisted us. Compare Ireland's style of play to Belgium's: they had 22 passes in the build up to Witsel's header.
Darren Randolph - 6
Randolph stopped what he should have stopped, and failed to pull off any miracle saves from any of the Belgian goals.
Seamus Coleman -6.5
Coleman had a reasonably solid game, but it was he who summed up Ireland's desperately passive attitude. In the 50th minute, with Ireland just a goal behind, Coleman jockeyed Hazard. He stood slightly off Hazard, and saw the Belgian captain fall over on his own accord. Hazard stood back up to find Coleman had retreated ten yards. Did reasonably well on Hazard overall, but failed to make an impact going forward.
John O'Shea -6
Nondescript. Didn't do anything obviously wrong, and nor did he miss an open goal, but he was at the heart of a defence which conceded thrice. Tainted by association.
Ciaran Clark -5
Clark was good in the first half, marshalling Lukaku extremely well, leading to John Giles blasting the Belgian striker at half-time, which seemed unfair on Clark. Like McCarthy, however, Clark imploded in the second half. The wild sprint across the field and subsequent missed tackle that led to third tackle was a hideously-judged move:
When you leave fans pining for a previous performance in which you scored an own-goal, you know you've had a bad one.
Stephen Ward - 6
This was a baptism of fire for Ward, but he dealt relatively well on Ireland's left, against the admittedly lesser challenge of Carrassco. Of no relevance going forward.
Glenn Whelan - 6.5
Whelan was in his element in the first-half, sitting extremely deep (often on the edge of his penalty area), but often failed to snuff out De Bruyne, who has a remarkable ability to pick up space. He became as ragged as the game became in the second half. Perhaps he could have closed down Lukaku faster on the first goal.
James McCarthy - 3
McCarthy was one of Ireland's worst players against Sweden, and after a reasonably steady first-half, he imploded after half-time. He foolishly went to ground on De Bruyne on the right-wing as Belgium broke ahead of the first goal, and anguished viewers may remember his incredibly loose touch in midfield two minutes later. McCarthy's personal nightmare was to descend further depths afterwards : mindlessly losing Axel Witsel for the second Belgian goal.
More damning than all of that was McCarthy's refusal to get on the ball. It was noticeable that, during Ireland's decent spell in the aftermath of the first Belgian goal, that it was Jeff Hendrick who got on the ball, and not McCarthy. Cowardly.
Jeff Hendrick -6
Hendrick looks a much better player when Ireland are on the front foot, and in Ireland's best spell in the game - between the first couple of Belgian goals - it was Hendrick who got on the ball, linking up very well with Seamus Coleman in particular. Showed an uncharacteristic reticence to shooting, but could have scored early in the first-half had Wes Hoolahan threaded the pass we thought he was capable of.
Robbie Brady -5.5
Disappointing by Brady, playing further forward than he did against Sweden, although failing to make as much of an impact going forward. HAd very few set-pieces to swing in.
Wes Hoolahan -5
Hoolahan, so effervescent on Monday, was off the pace somewhat today. Fluffed a glorious chance midway through the first-half, taking an extra touch on the edge of the area instead of slipping in Jeff Hendrick. Much of the Irish play involved slinging the ball up to Shane Long, meaning Hoolahan was frequently missing in action when Ireland needed numbers surrounding Long. Wes did, however, head a ball off the line four minutes before the break. Faded ion the second half, ultimately subbed off with twenty minutes to go. Many will say that Wes can't play twice in a week, and Ireland's style of play didn't help him. Disappointing.
Shane Long - 6.5
In years to come, Long's performance will hang in galleries as a rigorous rendering of the art of ploughing a lone furrow. Long tried desperately hard, but found himself isolated and at the mercy of an extremely fussy referee. He looked threatening when Ireland played the ball into the channels between Alderweireld and Meunier, twice showing each a clean pair of heels, but Ireland failed to offer adequate support. Didn't last the 90, but it was admirable he lasted as long as he did. Ireland are desperately short of support for him.
James McClean - 5
Did nothing, bar a limp free-kick and was meekly dispossessed in the build-up to the third goal.
Aiden McGeady - 4
The winger did nothing, but at least didn't go down injured when Ireland were chasing the game. Baby steps.
Robbie Keane - N/A
Robbie came on for Shane Long, but did nothing bar some trademark gesticulating.
We still have the chance to progress, and Italy will pick their reserves. Positivity will return soon, but it is difficult to not feel drained after that game.