Belgium seemed to be a fitting neutral host nation in the climate of Cold War relations and it was perhaps for that reason that it was chosen to host the European Championship in 1972. The tournament retained the four-team format that had by now become familiar and there was no doubt as to which team went into it as favorites: Gerd Muller’s debuting West Germany.
The Azzurrini did their job, but their fate doesn’t depend on them anymore. Luigi Di Biagio’s Under-21 selection defeated 3-1 an already-eliminated Belgian side on Saturday, but Spain’s simultaneous 5-0 routing of Poland qualified the young Furias Rojas as first from Group A of the U-21 European Championship. Chances for Italy to advance as best runner-up are dim.
The France squad that just won their second World Cup title didn’t make our jaws drop. Beauty and appearance were rather left to the Gioconda’s smile and to Napoleonic conquers. But in football, those who win are always right. And so, The Cult of Calcio’s final Top 11 lineup could not but feature many French – pardon, World Champions – representatives.
The World Cup Third Place Playoff is probably the saddest game in the whole football season calendar. The match no team would like to be playing, having just lost the chance to be part of the real deal that happens the following day. Belgium earned the third spot by beating England 2-0 in Saint Petersburg with goals by Thomas Meunier and Eden Hazard.
It’s a World Cup, but it looks like a European Championship by now. Belgium eliminated the last representative from South America last night, beating Brazil 2-1 in Kazan. The Belgians benefited from an own goal by Fernandinho, and doubled their lead with Kevin De Bruyne, before Renato Augusto could vainly reduce the gap for the Selecao.
Overconfidence could have costed much to Belgium, which snatched a last-minute 3-2 win over Japan in a wonderful Round of 16 game played in Rostov. The Belgians had to receive two violent slaps from the Samurais that really put them with their back against the wall, before they would stop contemplating themselves, and work out a plan to win their game.
A beautiful goal to England by lost talent Adnan Januzaj secured Belgium’s first place in World Cup Group H, in a match where both coaches Gareth Southgate and Roberto Martinez seemed more willing to preserve their top players, than go for the win – as qualifying from the second spot of the pool meant gaining access to an easier part of the knock-out phase bracket.
Belgium seem ready to finally collect the fruits of their golden generation’s maturity. While Panama and Tunisia didn’t prove to be the most challenging of tests, the way coach Roberto Martìnez’s selection got rid of both was impressive. Today, they delivered 5 goals to the unfortunate North Africans, including braces by Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard.