Republic of Ireland's Jeff Hendrick promises positive approach against Belgium
HE struck the ball sweetly with the inside of his right foot. Then, like the rest of the nation, Jeff Hendrick watched and prayed as his shot arced towards the Sweden goal.
Andreas Isakson flung himself up to his left but didn’t get near it, the ball whistled past him but thumped into the crossbar.
Like the rest of the nation, Hendrick cursed his luck. Sweden survived and the Republic were denied the first half goal that might well have won them the game last Monday.
“I was just hoping that it dipped a little bit more,” said Hendrick.
“Unfortunately it didn’t. It wasn’t meant to be but lucky enough Wes (Hoolahan) came up with a lovely goal.”
Hoolahan’s goal was the least Ireland deserved. Hendrick had signalled their intent early on when he stung Isakson’s hands with a stinging shot in the first half at Stade de France – it was the first of three saves the Sweden goalkeeper made from the Derby County midfielder in the Group E opener.
His impact on the game won’t have gone unnoticed by Belgian manager Marc Wilmots so it’s highly unlikely he’ll be given so much space in Bordeaux this afternoon. Hendrick intends to carry on regardless.
“A lot of people have been saying to me that I played well, but that game is done and I won’t take anything for granted,” he said.
“I’ll make sure I’m ready to be selected for the next game and I’ve got to go out and put in another good performance.
“Obviously Belgium have a lot of good players, they’ve got players who come in and out of the side and do just as good a job. You can’t focus on them, but it’s good to play against them if you get the chance. That’s why we’re here, you want to test yourself against good players.”
Belgium’s problems are well-documented at this stage – they are a collection of talented individuals and they play that way. Wilmots’ side need to produce something in Bordeaux or face the prospect of an early exit after they lost 2-0 to Italy in their Group E opener.
“I didn’t really know what way the game (Belgium v Italy) would go but I knew it would be a tough game,” said Hendrick.
“Every tournament Italy are in they do well, they’re hard to play against. We played against them a few years ago and it was a tough game and I knew it would be the same for Belgium. It was a good game to watch though, I enjoyed the second half.”
Meanwhile, as one day rolls into another at the Republic’s training camp in sleepy Versailles, many of the players punch in the time watching box sets and movies or jumping out from behind bookcases to scare Stephen Quinn.
Hendrick, does things a little differently, has been playing chess.
“Me and Aiden McGeady are playing,” he said.
“It’s 2-1 to me at the moment but it’s close. We only started playing yesterday or the day before. They have been long games they have. They’re good tactical battles.
“It’s an enjoyable game, it keeps you thinking. I suppose none of us like to lose as well so that’s why we are taking so long with our shots.
“I think there’s a few more who play. But because I beat Aido the first time, he’s been on to me now and he wants to keep playing. So I’m going to have to try and keep beating him.”
If he has a little bit more luck with his shooting tonight Hendrick will be packing his board for the knockout stage.