Odds: Belgium 7/10, The Draw 14/5, Republic Of Ireland 9/2
Quite how Belgium managed to arrive at Euro 2016 as a hype team for the second major tournament running is unclear.
Ahead of the 2014 World Cup it was understandable.
A dizzying array of exciting players had seemingly come together in the blink of an eye to breeze through a tough qualifying section to reach the finals in Brazil.
Shrewdies, hipsters and other assorted ears-to-the-ground rune readers fell over themselves to proclaim the Rode Duivels those finals’ dark horses.
It was as a result of such fanfare that they became one of the tournament’s big let downs, reaching the quarters, but only in the drabbest manner imaginable.
Their qualification for France was far less serene than the road to Brazil had been, despite a tamer group and they were lucky to top the section ahead of Wales.
Not that it stopped them once again being trumpeted as one of Euro 2016’s more likely winners, with the expectation perhaps that the experience of a first major tournament since 2002 two years ago would stand them in good stead.
Once again they seem set to underwhelm, after being comprehensively schooled by an Italy side widely considered to be the cream of one of the worst Azzurri squads in memory in their opening game.
The bwin oddsmakers are of the opinion that Marc Wilmots’ men will be able to put that far-less-than-the-sum-of-their-parts showing behind them against the Republic of Ireland.
But the Republic can call upon advantages their opponents cannot, not least the wiles of manager with more than of half a season of unsuccessful club management savvy under his belt.
Unlike Wilmots, Martin O’Neill has coached with success from non league to Champions League level and his nous could prove decisive.
Win, Lose or Draw?
Given the dysfunctional display put up by the Belgians against Italy and the Republic’s heartening showing against Sweden, the latter look far too big at 9/2 for victory.
This Irish side aren’t exactly serial losers after all. In fact they’ve tasted defeat just three times in 20 internationals dating back to September 2014, twice thwarting world champions Germany during that period.
Nor are Belgium in scintillating form, having won two of their last five outings.
It took an 89th-minute equaliser from Romelu Lukaku to secure a draw with Finland on June 1, while they were 2-1 down to an innocuous
Norway with 20 minutes to go in their final warm-up before they met the Italians.
The Rode Duivels’ 0-2 loss to Italy was one of only three matches in their last ten to deny over 2.5 goals backers a payout, while one more saw both keepers beaten.
But for profligate finishing from the man whose dad thinks he’s a shoo-in for Champions League football next season, Lukaku, R., their clash with the Azzurri would surely have followed suit.
Six of Ireland’s last eight have seen both sides score too, meaning that this one could go against the tournament norm and see at least three goals.
Who will do the damage?
Prior to his gaffe-strewn showing against Italy, Lukaku had been prolific for his country in recent months striking in the previous four internationals.
At 19/20 to score any time, he may be a little short for some and there could more joy to be found hunting for goalscorer gold on the green side of the divide.
Wes Hoolahan may have grabbed their opener against Sweden, but his overall contribution paled next to that of Derby County man Jeff Hendrick.
The 24-year-old has been growing with every outing for the boys in green and was at the centre of much of their best work against the Swedes.
Not all that left-field given the regularity with which this wager is copping at Euro 2016, but, at the time of writing, 10 of the tournament’s 29 goals were scored after the 75th minute.