Decision to deny Ireland penalty leaves Shane Long fuming

Shane Long appears to take a boot in the face as he and defenders Thomas Vermaelen and Toby Alderweireld challenge for the ball. Picture: PA
Shane Long appears to take a boot in the face as he and defenders Thomas Vermaelen and Toby Alderweireld challenge for the ball. Picture: PA
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Shane Long left Bordeaux fuming on Saturday after being denied a penalty which might have changed the course of the Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2016 campaign.

Ireland were on the attack when the Southampton striker appeared to take a boot in the face as he and defenders Thomas Vermaelen and Toby Alderweireld challenged for Robbie Brady’s inviting free-kick inside the Belgian penalty area.

Anywhere else on the pitch you might get a free-kick. The fact they broke and scored as well makes it a bit harder to take

SHANE LONG

Referee Cuneyt Cakir was unmoved as Long went to ground clutching his head convinced the official could only point to the spot, and worse was to follow when the Belgians broke at pace and Romelu Lukaku fired them into a 48th-minute lead.

Choosing his words carefully afterwards, the Ireland striker said: “I can’t really say what I really want to say because I’ll probably get myself in trouble.

“It’s just disappointing. Anywhere else on the pitch you might get a free-kick. The fact they broke and scored as well makes it a bit harder to take.

“He [the referee] obviously thought there was nothing there. He must have thought I was diving or something. I can’t really say what he was thinking because the pictures speak for themselves.”

Republic manager Martin O’Neill later said the incident could have been pivotal in the game as a chance for his side to take the lead was denied them before the dose was doubled by Lukaku’s strike.

“It’s been mentioned twice to me and I know that the players seem to be pretty adamant about it,” said O’Neill.

“I was asked a question in one of the TV interviews just two minutes ago, would that have changed the course of the game? Naturally, it would have done if we had been given a penalty and scored.

“But I think that overall we were beaten today by a better team. We have to try to rectify that in a few days’ time.”

In the event, Belgium ran out comfortable 3-0 winners, Axel Witsel extending their lead with 61 minutes gone before Lukaku helped himself to a second 20 minutes from time, with Ireland having lost their shape as they attempted to rescue the game.

They now face the daunting task of having to beat Italy, who have already guaranteed top spot in Group E with two wins out of two, in their final game in Lille on Wednesday night if they are to stand a chance of progressing.

Long said: “We’ll move on. It’s a tough result to take at the moment but we’ll approach this Italy game now and we need to win.

“It’s all or nothing at this stage. I think we can beat them. We’ve got a good record against the big teams – obviously not today.

“We’ve got a good history against Italy as well and hopefully they rest a few players. We will go out and try to cause an upset. It would be amazing to go through after beating Italy on four points.

“That’s what we have to aim for – nothing less will do.”

While events in Bordeaux on Saturday afternoon were a crushing blow to the Republic of Ireland, for Belgium the result could act as a springboard for the rest of the tournament.

The Belgians, ranked second in the world, went into the game with questions being asked about coach Marc Wilmots and dressing room harmony after a 2-0 defeat by Italy. But after an impressive performance that saw the likes of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne live up to expectations, Wilmots rounded on his critics in something of a rant.

“Well, after four years of success, when we get criticism it’s like those last four years disappear. It’s just manipulating the people, giving the people the wrong ideas.

“The team has in the past always given everything for the nation. We have got some great players and sometimes the criticism is just manipulation.

“I live with criticism, but apart from death, I don’t know what else could really affect me. I am 47, I want to be healthy. I enjoy my job, I hope to put the kids on the right path and I hope the country is proud of us.

“People being negative, that’s not interesting for me. I want to be with positive people. People who criticise are never going to have a good life.”