Misfiring Belgium face World Cup demons in France Euros showdown

Belgium will play one of Portugal or Slovenia in the quarter-finals should they get past France.


Belgium have a chance for revenge on Monday when they face neighbours France in the last 16 of Euro 2024, a showdown between two big-hitters who have played well below expectations so far.

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Defeat to France in the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup was extremely bitter for Belgium, as a so-called “golden generation” of players was sucker-punched by Les Bleus after a stunning last-eight victory over Brazil.

That loss became even more painful over time as Belgium’s performances at major tournaments got progressively worse despite being able to call upon an unprecedented pool of talent.

And frustration boiled over in the stands in Stuttgart on Wednesday even though their goalless draw with Ukraine pushed Belgium into the knockout stage.

Belgium would have avoided France and in fact been on the other, ostensibly easier, side of the draw had they beaten Ukraine and finished top of Group E.

Instead the Red Devils had to settle for a point which infuriated their supporters, who unleashed a volley of boos and whistles at their underwhelming team.

Fans were particularly angered by the safety-first approach adopted by Domenico Tedesco’s team in the final minutes of the game, sitting back while wary of a late Ukraine goal which would have knocked them out.

The fury was such that star midfielder Kevin De Bruyne appeared to instruct his team-mates not to head over to applaud supporters after the game, later saying little more than “we need them against France”.

Tedesco said that he was “a little bit surprised” by the level of fan anger as his team had qualified from the tournament’s tightest group, improving on their dismal, and at times comical, showing at the last World Cup in Qatar.

– Belgium’s ‘bad luck’ –

And Belgium would likely have topped the group but for Romelu Lukaku’s horrendous luck, with the striker looking sharp but having three goals chalked off by VAR decisions.

Two came in their opening 1-0 defeat to Slovakia and the last, in Belgium’s 2-0 victory over group winners Romania, caused fans to loudly curse their poor fortune when Lukaku’s big toe was shown to be offside.

Lukaku might not have got off the mark but he did set up Youri Tielemans for one of Belgium’s two goals and is in far better form than when he flopped at the last World Cup in Qatar after rushing back from injury.

“I think we had a lot of chances. For me we don’t really need to change anything, just be more sharp,” Johan Bakayoko told reporters on Saturday.

“And yeah, we need to have a bit more luck which is also a part of football. Sometimes we score four or five times and sometimes we don’t.”

PSV Eindhoven winger Bakayoko, 21, was still playing youth football for Mechelen when France beat Belgium at the World Cup six years ago and says the current team aren’t thinking about that elimination ahead of Monday’s match in Duesseldorf.

“Everything is different, so the game can be different and I don’t think it’s the same case as the past because we have different players, different styles. The way we see football is different, so yeah, it will be a different game,” he added.

“In general they’re very good in every position, they have class players in every position and we do also.”

Belgium will play one of Portugal or Slovenia in the quarter-finals should they get past France.

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