Lyon: Belgium coach Marc Wilmots refused to blame his Premier League stars for the Red Devils' below-par display in their 2-0 defeat to Italy in their Euro 2016 opener.
Much-fancied Belgium were floored on Monday by goals in either half from Emanuele Giaccherini and Graziano Pelle as Italy hit the ground running at the European championships finals.
Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku both had nights to forget at the Stade de Lyon. The Belgium forwards were repeatedly frustrated by Italy's outstanding back three of Andre Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini.
"It's very difficult to say," said Wilmots, when asked where Belgium went wrong. "We were too compact in the first half for an hour, then we conceded the (first) goal from a ball over the top, that was an individual mistake, clearly. De Bruyne and Lukaku didn't have the best of nights, but I don't want to criticise individuals."
Everton's Lukaku wasted a couple of golden chances, while Chelsea's Eden Hazard was continually frustrated by the Italian defence as he moved in from the left wing to the middle for the second-half. Manchester City's de Bruyne was a tired presence on the right wing, but Wilmots said he will persist with him because of his past performances for Belgium.
"Is the kid tired after a long season? Probably, but I am not going to slate him, he has been a big player for us in the past and I left him on as he is often able to bang in an assist," said Wilmots. "There was a breakdown in communication for their opening goal, which can't happen at this level," Wilmots said, after Toby Alderweireld allowed man-of-the-match Giaccherini to score Italy's opener. "Toby's only real mistake was for the first goal, but I don’t want to blame players like I said."
Wilmots said Belgium's objective must now be to get over their opening defeat, then beat Ireland and Sweden to ensure they reach the last 16. "We have to win our next two games now to make the knock-out stages and that is what we'll try to do," he added.