Wilmots hits out at critics after victory

BORDEAUX • Belgium's convincing 3-0 win over the Republic of Ireland at Euro 2016 on Saturday is unlikely to ease the difficult relationship between coach Marc Wilmots and his critics.

He was in the firing line after the 0-2 loss to Italy, targeted by some sections of the Belgian media who accused him of not getting the best out of arguably the best squad at the tournament.

But he relished getting the better of his critics in Bordeaux, saying that certain people were trying to manipulate Belgian fans with their views on him.

"We have just had four successful years, and then with the first defeat (against Italy) that is all forgotten. It is manipulation," the 47-year-old said after Saturday's win. "Public opinion is manipulated by certain people.

"We have superb supporters, but some people want to lead them down a bad path."

Wilmots, a former player, has been the Red Devils' coach since 2012 and took a promising young team to the quarter-finals of the World Cup in Brazil two years ago.

Coming into the European Championship, Belgium lay second in the Fifa world rankings behind Argentina, but for all his good work, Wilmots' problem in a country divided along linguistic lines is that he is a French-speaking Walloon.

The tendency in Belgium has often been for Walloon coaches to be targeted by the Flemish media, and vice versa.

Wilmots was perceived to have been outdone by opposite number Antonio Conte as an Italy team lacking in star players got the better of a Belgian side containing the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne.

But the Irish proved to be limited opposition and the win came after a build-up dominated by suggestions that leading Belgian players had agitated for a change in approach.

Wilmots, however, denied that the players have any say in how he lays his team out.

A draw for Belgium in their last group outing against Sweden in Nice on Wednesday will secure progress to the last 16.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2016, with the headline 'Wilmots hits out at critics after victory'. Print Edition | Subscribe