Marc Wilmots executes perfect game plan against the Republic of Ireland

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Praise must be heaped on Belgium coach Marc Wilmots after their 3-0 victory over the Republic of Ireland on Saturday afternoon.

Belgium suffered a disappointing defeat in their opening game against Italy and Wilmots' tactics were largely to blame. However, the 47-year-old made several changes to his side ahead of their second group match and reaped the rewards as they triumphed.

The Red Devils were devoid of creativity against the Italians as Marouane Fellaini lacked the technical ability to create chances and play effectively in the number 10 role. Wilmots moved Manchester City playmaker Kevin De Bruyne into the centre to play in behind Romelu Lukaku after he failed to influence proceedings against Italy on the right wing.


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The change saw Champions League final scorer, and natural winger, Yannick Carrasco replace Fellaini and ultimately increased Belgium's attacking dynamism.

Eden Hazard, De Bruyne and Carrasco linked near perfectly and provided Belgium with a pace and attacking spark that was lacking in their previous match. The Manchester City attacker was pivotal in a central role, linking the play and picking out his teammates' forward runs with laser guided passes. The 24-year-old will no doubt occupy a central role for the remainder of Belgium's Euro 2016 campaign.

Another problem Wilmots solved from Belgium's opening match was their midfield screen, or lack of it. Radja Nainggolan and Axel Witsel were unsure whether to defend or attack against Italy and failed to understand their roles in the team.

This time, Tottenham's Mousa Dembele was selected to play alongside Witsel and his role was very clear, as he rarely passed the halfway line as he safeguarded Belgium's defensive line.

Dembele gave Witsel attacking license and as a result, the Zenit man was regularly involved in Belgium's best attacking moves. The Zenit Saint Petersburg midfielder even got on the score sheet himself, ghosting into the box to bury a header, topping a fantastic box-to-box midfield performance.

Belgium's defence was perhaps their biggest problem against Italy as their wing backs continuously got in behind full backs Jan Vertonghen and Laurent Ciman.

Wilmots looked to prevent this by replacing 30-year-old Ciman with the much faster and energetic Thomas Meunier, proving to be another inspired decision. The Club Brugge right-back, who can also play comfortably as a winger, tightened up the Belgian back four and provided greater attacking threat with buccaneering bursts forward.

The 24-year-old started Belgium's attack for their third goal and collected an assist for their second of the day, after tackling Robbie Brady and sending Hazard down the line with a perfect pass, a moment which summed up Meunier's performance.

If Everton's Romelu Lukaku was a pussycat against Italy then he was certainly more of a tiger versus Ireland. The 23-year-old was the definition of clinical in front of goal as he scored two second half goals.

The first being an arrowed shot from outside the box and the second a tap-in after superb counter-attacking play. But what was more exciting for Belgium fans was Lukaku's link up play, as he proved excellent with his back to goal, laying off and playing through his supporting midfielders constantly. Belgium could go a long way in France if their young centre-forward can realise his world-class potential.

The Belgian's were fast, clinical and at times mesmerising as their talented stars linked. They were not without their problems as Shane Long was given time in the box on several occasions to take the ball on his chest but lacked support from his teammates to punish Belgium.

Wilmots recognised his side's flaws against Italy and tweaked his game plan to near perfection. If Belgium can continue their rich form against Sweden on Wednesday, then once again, all eyes will be on them.

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Euro 2016
Marouane Fellaini
Eden Hazard
Romelu Lukaku

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