Thursday, October 07, 2021

Belgium... sigh...

Today's second semifinal of the Nations League was between France and Belgium, who were fighting to see off Spain in the final.

Belgium had plenty to fight for: their greatest generation ever have never won a title, and they were facing a French side that in 2018 beat them out of the semifinals to become World Champions. Belgium, despite being ranked #1 in the FIFA World ranking, have nevertheless shown plenty of weaknesses, and these were sadly exposed today to the disappointment of all Belgium fans (I include myself), just as they were some months ago against Italy in the European Championships.

Belgium have an awesome force in Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku, and in the first half of the match they played together to a splendid goal by Lukaku which put Belgium ahead 2-0, after a splendid Yannick Carrasco had put Belgium ahead 1-0. Although Belgium had not been outright dominant (who can dominate France anyway?), they looked the more dangerous and organized team, and I think we all thought that they could carry the match home after the first half.

All credit to France, who came out to play their chance in the second half, but the Belgians also appeared like a team that stopped playing: there was no speed or ambition in their play in the second half, as they seemed solely to rely on a poor defense, a strong Courtois, and long balls up to a lonely Lukaku. In the meantime France, World Champions, do have a powerful attack that nobody should underestimate: Karim Benzema made it 1-2, Kylian Mbappe made it 2-2 on penalty (and fully redeemed himself from the infamous penalty miss against Switzerland in July), and in the end Theo Hernandez made it 2-3 for France in the 90th minute of the match after an excellent build-up by a French side that played their chance against the feeble Belgians.

Have no doubt that France-Spain will be a great final. But for Belgium's golden generation this should be one of the biggest of many disappointments, and one should consider whether it is time for Roberto Martinez to go.

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