Euro 2016

Wilmots wary of playing blame game

Italy midfielder Emanuele Giaccherini shooting the Azzurri's first goal past Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. Belgium were highly rated before the game but flattered to deceive.
Italy midfielder Emanuele Giaccherini shooting the Azzurri's first goal past Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. Belgium were highly rated before the game but flattered to deceive.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LYON • Belgium coach Marc Wilmots refused to blame his English Premier League stars - seven of whom started - for the Red Devils' below-par display on Monday.

Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku had a forgettable night and were repeatedly frustrated by Italy's outstanding back three of Andre Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini.

"It's very difficult to say," said Wilmots when asked where Belgium went wrong. "We were too compact in the first half an hour, then we conceded the (first) goal from a ball over the top, that was an individual mistake, clearly.

"De Bruyne and Lukaku didn't have the best of nights, but I don't want to criticise individuals."

Everton's Lukaku wasted a couple of golden chances, while Chelsea's Eden Hazard was continually frustrated by the Italian defence as he moved in from the left to the middle for the second half.

Manchester City's de Bruyne was a tired presence on the right wing, but Wilmots said he would persist with the player because of his past performances for Belgium.

"Is the kid tired after a long season? Probably, but I am not going to slate him. He has been a big player for us in the past and I left him on as he is often able to bang in an assist," said the coach.

About Italy's opening goal, after Tottenham Hotspur's Toby Alderweireld allowed Man of the Match Giaccherini to score, Wilmots said: "There was a breakdown in communication, which can't happen at this level. Toby's only real mistake was for the first goal, but I don't want to blame players like I said."

Wilmots said Belgium's objective must now be to get over their opening defeat, then beat the Republic of Ireland and Sweden to ensure they reach the last 16. "We have to win our next two games now to make the knock-out stages and that is what we'll try to do," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 15, 2016, with the headline 'Wilmots wary of playing blame game'. Print Edition | Subscribe