Belgium was one of the strongest teams in the tournament with players like Romelu Lukaku, Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard in their ranks. A dominant group stage with three wins out of three only reinforced that status. However, the dream of their golden generation fell apart when they lost 2-1 to Italy in the quarterfinals.
Roberto Martínez’s men were flat and seemed devoid of ideas in the face of the experienced bottom line and the Azzurri’s ingenious game management. The defeat meant that they once again even reached the final of a major tournament, something they really should have accomplished over the last decade given the talent at their disposal.
– Belgian Red Devils (@BelRedDevils) July 2, 2021
His victory against Portugal brought some hope that maybe this time it will be different, but it was not. So where did the Red Devils go wrong at Euro 2020?
PROBLEM ONE – INJURY PROBLEMS
Belgium had great bad luck with key players who suffered minor injuries just before the tournament. Eden Hazard was unable to overcome his injury problems in time for the opener against Russia and looked noticeably off-beat when he also played. He looked much sharper against Portugal, but suffered an injury that kept him out of the quarter-finals.
Kevin De Bruyne was knocked down by Antonio Rudiger in the Champions League final which kept him out of the field until the second half of Belgium’s second group match. The Manchester City player later suffered an alleged torn ligament in the round of 16 tie against Portugal. It is a testament to his personality that he played the full 90s against Italy and was perhaps Belgium’s best player on the pitch.
Axel Witsel also came into the tournament with an injury while Timothy Castagne was ruled out of the tournament after suffering a head injury in the first match of the tournament. The continuous changes in the line-up made it difficult to generate any kind of momentum. The team looked uneven against Italy and it was clear they missed Hazard and the others.
PROBLEM TWO: DEFENSE OF AGING AND BACKLESS
Thomas Vermaelen is 35 years old. Jan Vertonghen is 34 years old. Toby Alderweireld is 32 years old. It’s clear that your time at the top is coming to an end. None of the three were blessed with outstanding pace to begin with and with the years catching up, it became an obvious weakness of the Belgian team.
Also, the loaded team from Belgium is light in the wing and wing department. Castagne’s injury meant Thomas Meunier started from the right, while Thorgan Hazard, a professional winger, had to play the left-back position.
Meunier did not have a great season at Borussia Dortmund and, while contributing to the attack, he remained static in the central and defensive thirds. Similarly, young Hazard scored a wonderful goal against Portugal, but was not solid enough behind. Full-backs are a great tool for ball progression (read: Luke Shaw) and Belgium’s lack of quality in that department meant they couldn’t use this route.
Italy’s second goal is an example of a pattern of play that has occurred throughout the tournament: Spinazzola pushed high to hold the opposition right-back / right-back (Meunier) ➡️, allowing Insigne to move into half space left and collect the ball. pic.twitter.com/YUQSUFg8Tn
– Premier League Panel (@PremLeaguePanel) July 2, 2021
To protect the lack of rhythm of their central defense, Belgium had to play a deep line that made it difficult for the ball to progress from behind. De Bruyne seemed the only one who could link attack and defense. The other option, which Belgium took too often, was to place the ball in Lukaku and take it from there.
PROBLEM THREE – ROBERTO MARTINEZ
It’s not that Roberto Martínez is a bad coach. His record at Swansea and Wigan was impressive and his Everton team showed promise. But his appointment as head of one of the best international teams in the world did not make much sense. And in all honesty, it still doesn’t.
His Belgian team has a good general framework that gives the players the necessary freedom while maintaining basic stability. However, Martinez lacks that extra tactical talent to make adjustments to this system to give his team the advantage in big games. The same problem plagued them at the 2018 World Cup against Brazil and France and re-emerged against Italy.
Belgium’s ‘Golden Age’ in Grand Tournaments:
World Cup 2014
• Quarter finals
European Championship 2016
• Quarter finals
World Cup 2018
• Semifinal (third place)
European Championship 2021
• Quarter finals
World Cup 2022
• To be decided
Last chance …
– UtdArena (@utdarena) July 2, 2021
Martinez does not have a proven track record as a trophy winner and has been handed the reins to Belgium’s best chance of winning the silver medal. It may be too late for him to be replaced safely for the 2022 World Cup. Will Martinez be able to adapt to solve his squad problems and win a trophy for Belgium? Only time will tell.