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Republic of Ireland's Wes Hoolahan: Belgium defeat brought us back into reality

Published 20/06/2016

Wes Hoolahan was briefly the toast of Ireland after his superb goal against Sweden
Wes Hoolahan was briefly the toast of Ireland after his superb goal against Sweden

Wes Hoolahan has admitted the Republic of Ireland's Euro 2016 defeat by Belgium brought him back to earth with a bump just days after he had enjoyed one of the biggest moments of his career.

Hoolahan was briefly the toast of Ireland when he fired his side into a 1-0 lead over Sweden at the Stade de France in their opening Group E fixture, only for Ciaran Clark's late own goal to deny them the victory they craved.

However, the mood was very different in Bordeaux five days later when a 3-0 drubbing by the Belgians left the Republic facing an early exit from the competition unless they can beat Italy on Wednesday night.

Hoolahan said: "It brought us back into reality. It's important that over the next couple of days that we get our heads on the game.

"The most important thing is that we get the three points which gives us a great chance of getting out of the group."

Hoolahan's beautifully taken goal against Sweden capped a fine individual display and sparked an immediate response from family and friends as the nation saw cause for genuine optimism.

He said: "The place (team hotel) was buzzing. I got hundreds of texts with people congratulating me and saying well done, and it was a great night."

But Saturday proved a more sobering experience as Ireland were denied possession and their mistakes where punished in devastating fashion.

Only victory over Italy - Antonio Conte's men are yet to concede and have already clinched top spot in Group E with a game to spare - will give the Republic a chance of making the last 16, although Hoolahan insists he and his team-mates are not fazed by the prospect.

He said: "It all depends on what we do. It's not what they do. It's important that we're on the front foot, keep the ball better and create chances."

Manager Martin O'Neill and his players will complete their preparations in Versailles on Tuesday morning before heading to Lille, where fears over the state of the pitch amid persistent heavy rain in northern France in recent days have prompted UEFA to rule that neither team should train on it as they usually do the night before a game.

However, full-back Stephen Ward is not unduly concerned about what they will find when they get to the Stade Pierre Mauroy, which hosted France's 0-0 draw with Switzerland on Sunday night.

He said: "Listen, we all watched the game last night and saw the pitch didn't look great. Obviously, you want the pitches to be as good as possible, but if not, you have just got to deal with what's in front of you.

"It's going to be the same for the Italians as it is for ourselves, and I suppose that makes it a level playing field.

"Listen, myself and Wes have played in the League of Ireland, so we are used to those pitches."

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