Belfast Telegraph

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Ciaran Clark bids to banish own-goal blues by beating Belgian aces

By Aidan Fitzmaurice

Ciaran Clark is trying to forget about the record he's established as the first Ireland player to score an own goal in a competitive international in seven years.

He's even been exonerated for his own goal in Monday's 1-1 draw with Sweden in France by no less a figure than Roy Keane.

The Republic of Ireland assistant manager, who was not so forgiving for the moments and the Irish defending that led up to Thierry Henry's handball in Paris in 2009, had sympathy for Clark.

"He didn't kill anybody. These things happen," Keane said when pressed on Clark's deflected goal, the first scored by a Republic player in a game of note since Kevin Kilbane put the ball past Shay Given against Bulgaria in Dublin in Croke Park back in 2009.

Clark admits that the goal did cause him a sleepless night after the Sweden game but for the Aston Villa man is now a matter of causing nightmares for Belgium, ahead of tomorrow's meeting in Bordeaux. "Obviously the night of the game there wasn't much sleeping, it was ticking over in your head and that. But when you wake up the next day it's gone, there is nothing you can do about it," says Clark, who got the nod to start in central defence against the Swedes ahead of challengers Shane Duffy and Richard Keogh.

"It's one of those things - when the ball comes into the box as a defender, any defender will say you've got to get your body in there and try to get the ball away. Unfortunately for us it went into the bottom corner, which was obviously devastating, but we can't think about it now, we have just got to think about the positives and look forward to the game in hand.

"We looked over it, the game in general, and we took the positives out of the game, we'll be trying to take them into the game at the weekend."

And Clark, who has played against their attacking players like Eden Hazard and Romalu Lukaku in the Premier League, is wary of building up the Belgians too much. Sweden showed on Monday that, for all of the swagger that comes attached to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, there was not a lot to them and Clark stresses the strengths of an Ireland side, currently ranked 31 places below the Belgians in the world rankings.

"They've got a number of players that can play, haven't they?" he says with a smile.

"They've got a top-class squad. We obviously would be aware of the talent they have got but we would be trying to concentrate on our own performance and trying to match what we put in against Sweden."

Belfast Telegraph