Frank McNally: Irish fans face last stand in Lille

Talk of Belgian disunity counts for little in comprehensive victory over Ireland

Republic of Ireland fans appear dejected after the UEFA Euro 2016, Group E match at the Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux. Photograph: PA

Republic of Ireland fans appear dejected after the UEFA Euro 2016, Group E match at the Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux. Photograph: PA

 

Irish fans are bracing themselves for a last stand in Lille next week, after their Euro 2016 hopes went south in more ways than one in Bordeaux on Saturday afternoon.

In a town of famous reds, Belgium’s 2016 vintage showed why they are officially the second-best team in the world these days. Even in a scoreless first half, by contrast, Ireland were only second-best on the pitch, and by some distance.

Had the defence held out a little longer than it did in the second half, the pressure on the Belgians’ “golden generation” might have exposed the reported cracks in their dressing room.

Instead, Lukaku’s 47th minute goal allowed them to relax. And soon the gulf in quality between the sides was reflected on the scoreboard too.

Just as in Gdansk four years ago, Irish fans were reduced eventually to a plaintive rendition of The Fields of Athenry. The only difference this time was that, unlike Spain, the Belgians stopped scoring at 3-0.

The south not having agreed with us, and the theory of the disunited Belgians not having worked out, the travelling army of supporters must now start the long trek back north, nursing another favourite scenario.

In this one, having qualified already, Italy relax and allow us to snatch a famous victory, advancing to the knock-out stages as (probably) one of the best third-place teams.

But even in the unlikely event of the Italians feeling generous, it remains to be seen whether Martin O’Neill’s men can recover enough from today’s hammering to take advantage.

Win, lose, or draw, meanwhile, the Irish fans’ charm offensive continues. Word of their street-cleaning heroics in Paris had reached Bordeaux on Saturday, where the Sud Ouest newspaper gave it glowing mention in the build-up to the match.

The city cleansing department had stopped short of giving staff the week off, however. For the street outside the Connemara pub alone, “three vacuum cleaners, three street washers, and three members of staff” had already been deployed, working for two hours.

The local security forces are not relaxing either, although they too have been receiving a consideration they’re unused to from the visitors.

During heavy rain on Friday night, they were protecting (or monitoring – it’s not always clear) a group of Irish supporters who had taken shelter under a bridge.

As is their wont, the fans adapted one of their regular chants to suit the occasion, serenading their guardians with the message: “Stand up/For the French Police.

According to the website of L’Equipe, which picked up the inevitable video, the police got the joke, even echoing the chant on a loudhailer. Then they suggested politely that people should “rejoindre leur domicile”, which translates loosely as: “Have yiz no homes to go to?”

The Mayor of Bordeaux, Alain Juppé, tweeted his congratulations to the fans over the incident. And one local media organisation went so far as to suggest that he had been “totalement séduit” (“totally seduced”) by it. So even if the Irish team didn’t score in Bordeaux, the fans, as usual, did.

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