MARTIN O’NEILL reckons his Republic of Ireland players were too nervous in their 3-0 defeat to Belgium in their Euro Championship encounter.

The former Celtic boss saw his team hold their talented opponents in the first-half, but collapse after the interval with Romelu Lukaku (2) and Axel Witsel netting crucial goals.

O’Neill’s men now need a big result against Italy in Lille on Wednesday to have any chance of reaching the last 16.

He said: “We accepted the fact that Belgium are as talented a team, individually, as any in the competition, but the goals we gave away were not great from our viewpoint.

“They pushed us back, but my disappointment came from the fact that in the 1-1 draw against Sweden we played exceptionally well with the ball, but, against the Belgians, when we had it we looked too nervous and gave it away too readily.

“We tried to rectify that at half-time, but the disappointment came from the fact they broke on us for the first goal.

“Then you start to chase the game a bit, get stretched, and, of course, very fine players can punish you, and that’s what happened.”

The game’s turning point arrived three minutes after the interval when Everton striker Lukaku scored following a counter-attack.

But Ireland felt they should have had a penalty just before that goal when Shane Long was caught inside the Belgian area by Toby Alderweireld’s high boot.

Long said: “I just felt a kick in the back of the head. Then they broke and scored. I can’t really comment on what I really want to say, but it’s frustrating.”

O’Neill, who threw on ex-Celts Aiden McGeady and Robbie Keane in an effort to salvage something, added: “I know the players seem adamant about it, but I haven’t seen it back yet.

“That is doubly disappointing if that is the case. I was asked if that would have changed the course of the game and, naturally, it would have done, but, overall, we were beaten by a better team.

“There are two ways of looking at this.,You can start feeling very sorry for yourself or you can take some confidence from the way you played three or four days ago against Sweden and take that into the game against Italy.

“Now we have to go and throw everything into the match to prevent Italy from scoring and try to win the game ourselves.”

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