Belgium loses to Slovakia: The European Championship has its first big surprise – Sport

The Belgian fans in Frankfurt could hardly have made their admiration clearer. “Oh, Kevin De Bruyne,” they sang on the way to the stadium, “Oh, Kevin De Bruyne,” they sang shortly before kick-off of the match against Slovakia. Even though some members of the much-quoted golden generation of Belgian footballers have since retired, their best player for years is still here.

De Bruyne also showed his outstanding class at Belgium’s European Championship opener, the start of his sixth major tournament. The 32-year-old saw gaps that no one else saw and played passes that no one else played. But together with the Belgian footballers of the next generation, this is still not necessarily successful. Belgium lost 0:1 (0:1) to the underdog, partly because De Bruyne’s ideas lacked completion. The Belgians missed many chances, and two supposed goals by striker Romelu Lukaku were taken back after reviewing the video images. And so the European Championship had its first big surprise.

Although the Belgians are not considered more or less secret favorites for the first time in years, their elimination in the group stage at the 2022 World Cup was too sobering. But there are of course still enough outstanding footballers in their ranks besides De Bruyne, especially Lukaku, 31. In addition, they had not lost 14 times before the European Championship since former Bundesliga coach Domenico Tedesco took over as coach in February 2023.

Tedesco also has the proven Axel Witsel, 35, and Thomas Meunier, 32, in his squad, but both were absent against Slovakia due to injuries. So the young players had to do at least some of the work. One of the most talented is the winger Jeremy Doku, 22, De Bruyne’s teammate at Manchester City.

In the third minute, he made his first run towards goal, and no Slovakian player could stop him. The ball reached Lukaku in the penalty area via De Bruyne, and it should have been the opening goal for the Belgians. But the striker was unable to get the ball past goalkeeper Martin Dubravka from very close range.

The Belgians often play imprecisely in the decisive moments

In the seventh minute, Doku dribbled again, but this time near the corner flag, and his subsequent pass to central defender Wout Faes was so inaccurate that Slovakian Ivan Schranz won the ball in the Belgian penalty area and immediately passed it back with his heel. Koen Casteels in the Belgian goal was able to parry Juraj Kucka’s first shot, but he had no chance against Schranz’s follow-up shot.

The Belgians were now behind, against one of the clear underdogs of this tournament. The most famous Slovakian at this European Championship is still Marek Hamsik, although the former SSC Napoli midfielder is now only involved as a manager. The most famous on the field is defender and captain Milan Skriniar from Paris Saint-Germain. And then they have a coach who has already proven his class. The Italian Francesco Calzona was recently coach in Naples for a few months at the same time.

The Belgians had problems with Calzona’s ideas of having his team defend aggressively and always look for solutions with the ball. They did create chances, mostly initiated by De Bruyne, such as in the 21st minute when the midfielder won the ball in a press against goalkeeper Dubravka, but Leandro Trossard shot over the empty goal. The Belgians were often imprecise in the decisive moments up front, and sometimes a little cautious in building up play. And in the 40th minute, Casteels had to prevent the 0-2 when he saved a volley from Lukas Haraslin.

In the second half, a Belgian attack quickly became apparent. In the 55th minute, Lukaku, who had been erratic in finishing until then, scored, but his goal was disallowed because he was just offside after Amadou Onana’s header.

Now chance followed chance. First Lukaku shot into the side netting again after a cross from De Bruyne, then Johan Bakayoko failed to put the ball into the goal from a few meters, which was only blocked by Slovakian defenders. Tedesco had brought on the 21-year-old winger from PSV Eindhoven shortly before, in the 58th minute, for defensive midfielder Orel Mangala. When Loïs Openda and Dodi Lukebakio came on shortly before the end, the Belgians really attacked with everything they had.

But the Slovakians did not stop fighting back, and their fans, who had travelled there in considerable numbers, seemed to get louder the longer they held on to the lead. They finally cheered as if they had scored a goal themselves when the supposed equaliser was disallowed for the second time in the 88th minute. Openda had played the ball with his hand before his pass. Again, Lukaku would have scored the goal.

The Belgians can of course still advance in the group with Ukraine and Romania, especially in the format that also drags the four best third-placed teams into the round of 16. But they are no longer considered favorites.

By Editor

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