nAfter an unforgettable evening, Roberto Martinez laughed so hard that he developed a running muzzle for the tournament. “The Red Devils love Coca-Cola,” the Belgian national coach said and in his press conference he left aside the soda bottles that football and fitness icon Cristiano Ronaldo had put aside these days. The match turned upside down, the Danes’ “waves of emotional football” broke, and they reached the round of 16 of the European Championship: coaching luck had its reasons, and Martinez also knew who he had to thank up front: “It’s a huge challenge to get a great deal of Kevin De Bruyne’s comeback,” he said of Kevin De Bruyne’s great comeback .
45 minutes, his first game in this tournament, was enough for the 29-year-old from Manchester City to show he wanted to make this EM his king – despite his nasty sting on Antonio Rudiger’s shoulder in the Champions League final three weeks ago, Despite fractures of the nasal bone and left eye socket, pain, operation, and particular discomfort from exposure to sunlight.
In Copenhagen, De Bruyne showed his class in all respects against the walls of Danish fans on the steep, packed stands of Barken Stadium. Great help Thorgan Hazard to 1:1 and a dry finish after sending his brother Eden to the bottom line 2:1. But also human. On a day devoted to dealing with Christian Eriksen’s meltdown and celebrating his emaciated survival, he refrained from excessive cheering. “I respect the people here a lot for that,” said De Bruyne. “I was (After 2:1, dr. red.) at the place where Eriksen collapsed on Saturday.”
‘Victories you really appreciate’
The Belgians quietly enjoyed their victory, and their first path after the final whistle went to the Danes, who felt very close to them last Saturday due to the many ties through the club’s teams. As the first visitor to Copenhagen after Eriksen’s shock, a delicate mission awaited her. Torn between their roles as guests and opponents in the exorcism, it took them halfway to understand that the Danes were no longer as paralyzed as they were when the match against Finland resumed on Saturday, but they were even braver.
The atmosphere was so intense that there were not only moments of deep emotion like the one during the one minute solidarity applause from all players and fans for Eriksen in the 10th minute (10 because of his shirt number). But also pure and empty football as the whistles of anger against the Belgian attacks or rain in the direction of referee Kuipers due to the whistle of a failed penalty kick. For Martinez, the circumstances – “at first we were shocked” – gave the final success a special taste. “These are the victories you really appreciate that make you better as a team.”
Will it be something this time? This is the question that has been hanging over all Belgian championship projects since the arrival of a generation known as the Golden. Belgium ceased to be an insider among the favorites by winning third place at the 2018 World Cup at the latest. She is the number one in the world and thus is simply one of the candidates. Final group match against underdog Finland on Monday (9pm, ARD and In the live WELT barIt is just a matter of form after the specific qualification to the Round of 16.
But time is running out. The champions of the last decade have left Marouane Fellaini, the powerful midfield giant with the casual afro hairstyle, and above all defense coach Vincent Kompany, who now coaches RSC Anderlecht. Missing badly, defensive is the problem area for this team. Even as the score and mood changed in Copenhagen, Belgium allowed Danish striker Martin Braithwaite to three excellent chances to score, including the crossbar.
Many outstanding performers are over 30 years old
The viewer can imagine what it will look like when the best central defenders Jan Verthongen and Toby Aldreweld retire. They are 34 and 32. Or Strategist Axel Witsel: 32. Or Eden Hazard: 30. De Bruyne also celebrates his 30th birthday during this tournament.
The game in parking clearly showed that these players are irreplaceable. Because the second stage of the comeback, initiated by De Bruyne and striker Romelu Lukaku, was ignited when, an hour later, Eden Hazard and Witsel also entered the match. Even with them there is not enough for a full 90 minutes.
Hazard is after a season with seven injuries or a satisfactory break and less than 900 minutes of play without the rhythm of the competition. Meanwhile, after rupturing his Achilles tendon at Borussia Dortmund, Witsel played a match for the first time since the beginning of January.
Martinez received special praise for this. “I couldn’t be more proud today,” the coach said, telling of Witsel’s long individual rehabilitation in Antwerp. De Bruyne, Witsel and Hazard: “Great personalities and role models. They bring an extra quality, we don’t need to talk about,” Verthongen added.
Belgium’s third attacking star alongside De Bruyne and Hazard, striker Romelu Lukaku, is also standing by their side. In the 3-0 win over Russia, he had scored twice on his own, and now with his untenable strength in the area, the Danish defense was decisively occupied in front of both goals. He scored 62 goals in 94 international matches, an impressive rate. Belgium’s King Philippe gave him a special honor during a visit to the team’s headquarters last week and imitated the typical cheering gesture, with fingers pointing to the sky.
The national team as paste
Since the advent of the golden generation, the Belgian national team has become more than ever the link between the various parts of the country. And in fact they wanted to celebrate them at the multinational EM at home in Brussels. But the planned construction of the new stadium was cancelled, and UEFA withdrew its contract. Instead, you are now traveling back and forth between Saint Petersburg and Copenhagen and your home in Tubiz near the capital, not ideal, but at least the same climatic zone, without flights to Baku or Seville.
There, however, you’ll rise to the last 16 if you manage to score a group win in the last game against Finland. A draw, and maybe a narrow loss, would suffice. And successfully, the Belgians can help their Danish friends – if they beat Russia – in second place in the group and thus make a safe progress. And anyway, they can only play to win with their crew.
The character’s strong victory in Copenhagen was the first European Championship match that the finalist won in 1980 after falling behind. Especially compared to France, which is more favored and luxuriously equipped at the front, the defense must of course increase.
Attack wins games, but defense wins trophies, that’s what football is all about. And it must finally be again for a country that has already won an international soccer tournament, contrary to popular belief. It’s been a long time since that gold medal at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp.