Belgium are quickly becoming one of the biggest underachievers in world football. The array of stars in the team have made them favourites for any competition entered into in the last several years.
It’s not surprising then that the Red Devils came into Euro 2020 ranked number one as the best team in the world by FIFA. But it’s usually not easy to carry such a tag.
It can exact enormous pressure on the team to live up to sky-high expectations both from within and outside. The biggest achievement for the country’s golden generation so far is a third-place finish at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Still parading some of the best players in the world (featuring for some of the best teams in Europe), they were expected to finally come good at the ongoing European Championships.
Unfortunately, a combination of what some may consider to be bad luck, and inexperience has seen the team exit the competition prematurely.
Bad luck as key players Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne were nursing injuries ahead of the meeting with Italy.
The four-time world champions may have won the Euros just once in their history, but they have been in several finals. Add to that being coached by a vastly experienced manager in Roberto Mancini and the scales are suddenly tipped firmly in favour of Gli Azzurri.
Although Roberto Martinez in the opposite dugout decided to take his chances by throwing in an injured De Bruyne from the start, the Manchester City ace was not his usual self.
He is yet to fully recover from the acute fracture of the nose and an orbital fracture to his left eye socket suffered during the Champions League final. An ankle problem picked up in the round of 16 clash with Portugal meant he was a doubt for the quarter-final.
In fact, the 30-year-old could have easily missed the remainder of the tournament. As he revealed after the game that he played with torn ligaments.
He needed to at least sit out the quarter-final fixture having not been able to train before the encounter. But the manager rushed him back in desperation hoping he could run on sheer willpower and adrenaline to power his country through.
Unfortunately, nature prevailed as De Bruyne’s lack of fitness robbed him of his usual sharpness and incisive passing. Hazard’s absence meant the Belgians also lacked a playmaker, captain and leader who could rally the troops to mount a comeback after the Italians raced to a two-goal lead in the first half.
Yes, his replacement Jeremy Doku gave a good account of himself. The 19-year-old won the penalty that Romelu Lukaku tucked in to reduce the deficit, but he lost possession 15 times in the match and fired just one shot in the whole game.
A fit Eden Hazard will definitely do better.
However, Belgium’s loss was Italy’s gain. The Blues prioritized defensive solidity and simply shut out the opponents to book a semi-final meeting with Spain.
De Bruyne has had to bear another huge disappointment after missing out on the Champions League winner’s medal just over a month ago.
Time to look forward though.
With club football set to resume next month, the midfielder should be concerned about having a good rest and full recovery before hostilities begin. Rival clubs are already beefing up their squads with new additions.
That promises a tougher campaign that will require more from Pep Guardiola and his men to retain the Premier League title. So while it may hurt Belgian fans to be dumped out of the Euros, City fans can consider this a blessing in disguise.
Given his importance to the team, De Bruyne will have enough time to rest, recover from injuries and be ready to hit the ground running when the new season kicks off.