Belgium demolished the Republic of Ireland 3-0 with a Romelu Lukaku brace, meaning Italy clinch top spot in Group E.
Marc Wilmots made numerous changes from the side that lost 2-0 to Italy, dropping Laurent Ciman, Radja Nainggolan and Marouane Fellaini. Ireland were held 1-1 by Sweden in their opener after an unfortunate own goal, but brought in Stephen Ward for injured Jonathan Walters.
The Red Devils were aggressive from the start and particularly dangerous on set plays, Toby Alderweireld’s glancing header wide from a corner and Eden Hazard blasting over after a Kevin de Bruyne cross was not dealt with.
Wes Hoolahan hesitated on a defensive error on the edge of the box, allowing Mousa Dembele to close him down. Yannick Carrasco was caught marginally offside when his cheeky flick was acrobatically tipped on to the crossbar.
Just before half-time, Hoolahan’s goal-line clearance denied another Alderweireld header from a De Bruyne corner.
Ireland had penalty appeals for a high Alderweireld foot on Shane Long, but Belgium countered immediately with De Bruyne and Lukaku drilled in from the edge of the box. It was his fifth goal in six games for the Red Devils.
Robbie Brady’s shot was charged down, but remarkably slack Irish defending allowed Axel Witsel a free header on Thomas Meunier’s cross.
Ireland showed their defensive frailty again, allowing a two against one counter that Lukaku stroked home from a Hazard assist.
De Bruyne’s turn and strike stung the gloves of Darren Randolph late on, but Ireland never troubled Thibaut Courtois.
Belgium 3-0 Ireland
R Lukaku 48, 70 (B), Witsel 61 (B)
Belgium: Courtois; Meunier, Alderweireld, Vermaelen, Vertonghen; Witsel, Dembele (Nainggolan 57); De Bruyne, Hazard, Carrasco (Mertens 64); R Lukaku (Benteke 82)
Rep Ireland: Randolph; S Coleman, O’Shea, Clark, Brady; Hendrick, Whelan, McCarthy (McClean 62), Ward, Hoolahan (McGeady 71); Long (R Keane 78)
Ref: Cakir (TUR)
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