“To be honest I’d settle for the draw now,” says the merry man in the vintage Irish jersey as Lukaku knocks in Belgian’s third. He looks around to see if anyone is laughing at his wit.
No one is. Everyone around him is staring at the screens in the Living Room pub just off Dublin’s O’Connell street looking glum.
It was all so different two hours earlier. Back then the atmosphere could scarcely have been happier. Daniel McConnell from Airfield was the happiest person in the pub or at least he looked like the happiest person in the pub with his lime green suit flecked with daisies under which he wore an Irish jersey under which he had on a shirt and lime green tie.
When asked if he had actually looked in the mirror before he left his house he nodded yes. “Ah sure you have to do it, don’t you? It’s great craic,” he said.
The conversation turned to football. “I can see a draw. They’re a good team and we can’t be too cocky. They have some great players.”
Whatever else he had to say was drowned out by an enormous cheer as Wes Hoolahan scored. Sadly, the goal was not against Belgium but a replay of his wonder goal against the Swedes. The sight of the goal still prompted a round of "You'll never beat the Irish" followed by a quick Ole Ole Ole in the pub's massive beer garden.
Ciara Fitzpatrick and Rachel Murray from the Navan Road watched McConnell and his suit pass them by. They seemed unimpressed. Both had been in the pub since just before midday and both had two enormous strawberry daiquiris in their hands. "We're we right to get here early," said Rachel. "Did you see the size of the queue outside? It was only massive. I'm a big fan, I am, and I reckon it'll be a draw. But there'll be goals alright."
Thirty minutes before kick-off the televisions were turned up briefly so people could listen to the pre-match analysis before the DJ decided to take a more immediately upbeat route. He played Christy Moore's Joxer Goes to Stuttgart. Most of the people in the pub were probably not born when Ray Houghton put the ball in the English net so most of them didn't know the words .
He tried another tune. An echoey Ole Ole Ole came out of the speakers. It was Put Em Under Pressure. "Ah that's a great song. The best song ever man," a man necking a huge pitcher of beer said – slurred might be a better word – to nobody in particular. He swayed in time to the music and then the roof nearly lifted off the place at the chorus. "We're all part of Jackie's army. We're all off to Italy, " sang the pub as one.
Apart, that is, from the group of Belgian men who found themselves in Ireland for the Euros almost by accident. Quentin Bekaert was one of them. He came to Dublin from a town near Bruges for a four-day holiday. When they booked their trip, they had no idea the Republic would be playing Belgium." It is actually very nice here in this pub. Everyone is lovely and they are wishing us good luck and everything. If Belgium score I will be enthusiastic but maybe a little bit less enthusiastic then I might be at home," he said.
After 20 minutes or so, the singing had almost completely died. The only team being put under any pressure was Ireland. A young man in a flat cap was particularly incensed. He appeared to have a particulr set against De Bruyne and more particulrly his hair. Every time the Belgian playmaker touched the ball the man in the flat cap screamed “F**k off you ginger c**t”.
It was all the more peculiar given that the hair under his cap was suspiciously ginger.
That Ireland got to half-time without conceding a goal was miraculous was the consensus in the Living Room at half time. The miracle came to a swift end early in the second-half. Lukaku’s goal was met with a deathly silence.
The mood drained out of the place.
The Belgians were understandably delighted at the end but magnanimous in victory. “I think Ireland were unfortunate to come up against Belgium after we had been beaten by Italy,” said Bekaert. “I hope you beat Italy,” he added. “And I hope you are the best third place qualifier.”
That was some serious chicken counting. If Sweden beat Belgium and the Republic beat Italy then the Republic will finish ahead of the Belgians in second place.
It could happen.