Belfast Telegraph

Roy Keane issues Hazard warning as Republic of Ireland hope to thwart Belgium star

By Daniel McDonnell

Towards the end of his press conference, Roy Keane asserted that the pressure of being expected to deliver in a major tournament was preferable to the easier life sitting in a television studio.

It was always inevitable, though, that a game against an opponent with a star-studded team would bring Keane the assistant into contact with players he had discussed as Keane the pundit.

And so, we come to Eden Hazard. Keane's eyes narrow when the man from Sky brings up his acerbic comments about the Chelsea star around the time of the Londoners' Champions League tie with PSG in February, a draw which prompted Hazard to admit he would find it hard say no if the French champions made a play for his services this summer.

"If I was a team-mate of his I would kick him up and down the training pitch," raged ITV Roy. "He's a talented boy, but his attitude is like a spoilt child. It was absolutely ridiculous."You don't mind some players sometimes being moody, or having their head turned if they think they might be moving, but once you go on that pitch you've still got your pride."

Strong words. He couldn't deny them. "That's nothing personal," he explained yesterday, after testing his inquisitor to be sure they accurately remembered his specific comments.

"I would do that to anybody if they were talking about trying to leave all the time.

"If I was playing with anybody who was constantly talking about wanting to leave, I'd kick them in training. I did that with most players," he continued, smiling. Clearly, with the Irish tracksuit on, his intention was to diffuse the situation instead of inflaming it.

Belgium have a talented array of players and Kevin de Bruyne was their star performer in this term's Premier League yet it's Hazard that discussion keeps coming back to. That's partially media-driven, of course, but Martin O'Neill kept making unprompted references to the playmaker in the course of his general reflections earlier in the week.

Richard Keogh cited the 25-year-old when he was asked about Belgians that he admired. "A fantastic player," he enthused, recalling a cup tie where he gave Derby the runaround. "He's very elusive, he likes to suck you into tight areas because his mobility is very good.

"It's not so much with the ball, it's his body movement that throws you off because he is so sharp with the ball and he sends you one way and then the other. That's why you want to be at a major championships, to play against the best players in the world and Hazard is in that category. If you don't want to play against those players then you shouldn't be in the game."

Keane wants the Irish squad to adopt that mindset, although he batted away the suggestion that the stopping job on Zlatan Ibrahimovic offers encouragement for this test.

Hazard is different, capable of hurting Ireland in other ways. With Jonathan Walters out, Ireland will have to examine whether it's worth changing a midfield shape that is susceptible to a team that is strong on the flanks.

Euro 2016 Group E: Rep of Ireland v Belgium, Bordeaux, Tomorrow, 2pm

Belfast Telegraph