Euro 2016: Belgium’s Courtois and Wilmots put on united front

Goalkeeper and manager say they won’t be distracted by ‘football circus’ ahead of game

Belgium's Thibaut Courtois has played down reports of a blazing row with coach Marc Wilmots in the wake of their Euro 2016 defeat by Italy.

The Chelsea goalkeeper was said to have been involved in a “furious altercation” with Wilmots and criticised the tactics after the world’s second-rank side found themselves sitting at the foot of Group E following a 2-0 loss to the Italians.

However, Courtois moved to defuse the situation as he spoke to the media on Friday afternoon ahead of Belgium's crucial showdown with the Republic of Ireland in Bordeaux on Saturday.

Courtois said: “We’re all winners, you want to win a game and I was a little bit frustrated after the match. Perhaps we didn’t do what we need to do in that game, but we must learn the necessary lessons.


“It was constructive criticism and we have worked on it as a team, and we need a positive result tomorrow as a team.”

Wilmots has had to contend with suggestions that he has lost the dressing room, with a squad packed with individual talent having failed to make an impression against Italy.

However, the 47-year-old was at pains to point out that heated discussions in adversity are the norm in football before insisting that ultimately he would be making the decisions.

Wilmots said: “I gave my opinion to the players, they then gave their opinions and then we trained. That’s normal at football. I’m the man in charge. I make the decisions.”

The fall-out from Belgium’s first game has sparked rumours of discontent behind the scenes, but again Wilmots was unconcerned by suggestions that the source of the stories lies within his own dressing room.

He added: “No, I’m not concerned about that. It is part of the football circus. I don’t believe the players leaked any information. The best way to do so is to talk to the papers and managers do that as well.

“There is a lot of the game behind the scenes. It’s not a problem for me.”

In the short-term, Belgium will hope to repair the damage against Ireland, against whom a defeat would leave them staring at an early exit.

Courtois has warned his team-mates that will be no easy task with Southampton's Shane Long, who scored past him in the Premier League in February, leading the line for Martin O'Neill's men.

The keeper said: “At first sight, you see see Shane Long and he is just a short striker, but he is good in the air, he is very dangerous, he’s quick with good feet and he scores goals.

"It's tough to compare him to Romelu Lukaku, Christian Benteke or Michy Batshuayi, but I think he is at the same level. He has scored a lot of goals at Southampton and we need to keep an eye on him.

“Ireland is a team which has lots of Premier League players, so a lot of our players will know what to expect from their team. They will fight for every metre and they will be ready for every ball, so we have to have the same intensity on our side to win the game.

“It will be a hard game, but if we play well we should win — and we have to win.”