With the Euros finally upon us, Copa 90 continue to do what they do best as they cover the game from the fans’ perspective. They cover the action and reaction across Europe as the video gives us a brief look into the atmosphere at the Stadium as well as a look at the fans who couldn’t make it to the tournament but are still fervently supporting their boys from back home. The video covers both of the opening games of Group E, namely Ireland vs Sweden and Belgium vs Italy. While the video is definitely worth a watch, the deeper question of whether Belgium are the most overrated team in the Euros remains unanswered. Belgium still have plenty of work to do if they want to go far in the tournament, starting with the game against Sweden. The odds point towards a win for Belgium, as they should given that Sweden have hardly sparkled this tournament and one would expect Belgium to come away with the 3 points.
Boasting a star-studded line-up, Belgium have outgrown the status of dark horses, but such expectations are more a result of the names they possess rather than their achievements as a team. True, they carried the tag of being Number 1 in the FIFA World rankings, but their litmus test was always going to be these Euros. As such, their opening game against Italy put forth quite a compelling narrative. A traditional powerhouse of Europe taking on the new kids on the block, it was a chance for Belgium and Marc Wilmots to lay down the proverbial marker, issue a statement of intent, and to be concise, cover all the early tournament cliches that the commentators demand from the pre-tournament favourites.
Few of the questions surrounding Belgium were answered but not to the liking of their faithful. A frustrating performance that saw an impotent Romelu Lukaku hauled off raised more questions about Wilmots’ suitability to the role. At this elite level, one cannot simply bank on individual ability and questionable tactics saw the spotlight on Wilmots become that tad bit sharper. A failed man-marking system leading to susceptibility to the counter-attack saw Italy come away from the tournament’s first “heavyweight” encounter with all 3 points leaving the Belgians with little room for error.
Next up for the Red Devils were the Republic of Ireland. Diametrically opposite to the Belgians, the Irish boast names familiar to most Premier League followers and yet none that would stand out in World football. A draw against Sweden would’ve seen both sides come away somewhat dissatisfied and Martin O’Neill’s men had to take points away from Belgium and Italy to ensure qualification. Wilmots made three changes to the side that flattered to deceive against the Italians as the trio of Thomas Meunier, Mousa Dembele, and Yannick Carrasco replaced Laurent Ciman, Radja Nainggolan and Marouane Fellaini respectively. What followed was a sparkling performance.
The Irish were put to the sword in what was arguably Belgium’s best performance in recent times, a massive improvement on the limp display from the opening game. Lukaku found his scoring boots and Kevin De Bruyne showcased his considerable skill. The performances weren’t limited to the pitch either as Wilmots took the opportunity after the game to vilify his critics. To ignore the quality of the performance against Ireland would be foolhardy but to make sweeping claims on the back of it could be more so.
But to address the original question of whether Belgium truly are overrated, they will have to do a lot more than that. If the tone of the article hasn’t conveyed it yet, this author is far from convinced that Wilmots is the man under whom this golden generation can do justice to their considerable talent. Having said that, Belgium played against Ireland as if they had a point to prove. If the same spirit can be leveraged for the remainder of the tournament, Wilmots might yet prove his naysayers wrong.