After beating Brazil, Belgian fans had a belief that this tournament could be the one, the tournament where their nation’s golden generation pull it all together to win. Yet, once again Belgium have fallen short as they lost in the semifinals of the World Cup to France.
Looking at the game itself, a main issue was individual players not doing enough and falling below expectations. Mousa Dembele, who is a player I thought would do really well in the midfield, lost possession too many times and didn’t add anything to Belgium going forward. Nacer Chadli was poor throughout the match. His crosses from open play left much more to be desired and his service from set-pieces was just as bad as he often failed to beat the man at the front post on corners for example. A surprising mention is Kevin De Bruyne. He is a player with such great quality, but he failed to produce when it mattered most. Misplaced passes, a lack of a cutting edge, and wrong decisions in the final third were all uncharacteristic of such a talent. Compared to other players, he didn’t play as bad as I have portrayed him out to be, but considering his obvious ability I expected more. Meanwhile another star who underperformed was Romelu Lukaku. He was ineffective throughout the game and missed two chances because he anticipated the defender to get there first. As an attacker you always have to be ready and be there in case of a mistake and today Lukaku failed to do that.
In regards to the goal itself, Marouane Fellani failed to win a header off a corner allowing Samuel Umtiti to score. Fellani was left as a player who was free in the box to attack the cross as he is so dominant in the air. The other players defended man to man and Toby Alderweireld was on Umtiti. Alderweireld lost Umtiti and Fellani wasn’t aggressive enough which allowed the Frenchman to get to the ball first and head the ball beyond Thibaut Courtois.
Overall, Belgium weren’t good enough in the final third to trouble France. They created many half chances that troubled Hugo Lloris, but it wasn’t enough. Eden Hazard was a spark throughout the game and he certainly played his part in trying to get to the final. However, with his supporting cast not performing on his level, Belgium lacked an incisiveness to break through the French defense. A few crosses that were actually driven well into the box troubled France as Fellani and Lukaku looked dangerous. Perhaps going down the wings and having better crossers on the sides of the pitch would have given Belgium the break through they needed. Losing Thomas Meunier looks like it really made a difference in hindsight.
With a few players edging towards the wrong side of 30 years old, Belgium’s golden generation will slowly come apart. By the next World Cup, Thomas Vermaelen, Jan Vertonghen, Vincent Kompany, Alderweireld, Axel Witsel, Fellani, Dembele, and Dries Mertens will all most likely not be returning to the squad. Six of those players started today and one came off the bench. The defense and midfield will have to be replaced with other players as Belgium will have to rebuild to give the remaining stars a chance at future glory. With players like De Bruyne, Hazard, Lukaku, and Courtois still likely to be available in four years time, Belgium still have hope, but it is fading.
This World Cup may have been Belgium’s best chance at winning something as talent and experience seemed to be at a perfect crossroads for a majority of their big name players to come together and make their country proud. Yet, it’s more of the same as Belgium’s golden generation have disappointed once again in the eyes of many. However, in my opinion considering I thought Brazil would have beaten them in the quarterfinals, Belgium should be happy with their achievements so far, especially since this is the first time that they have beaten a big team in a tournament in recent memory. Although the Red Devils won’t return home as champions, they should be applauded for their achievements.