Thursday, December 22, 2022

Kevin De Bruyne was right – Belgium really have no chance of winning the World Cup

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For this ‘golden generation’ of players, Roberto Martinez included seven players aged 30 and over in his starting XI against Morocco

Belgium 0-2 Morocco (Saiss 73′, Aboukhlal 90+2)

AL THUMAMA STADIUM – In a World Cup full of shocks, Morocco’s win over Belgium can’t really be compared to Saudi Arabia’s loss to Argentina or Japan’s sensational comeback against Germany, because Kevin De Bruyne was right: Belgium really have no chance of winning the World Cup.

The only surprise is that the Manchester City midfielder’s words from his pre-tournament interview, published this week, came true sooner than expected. If this ‘golden generation’, which has been at the end of its cycle for some time, were to fail in Qatar, it would likely be against a superior nation in the knockout stages. Climbing up from a World Cup group is her forte.

A record ninth consecutive World Cup group stage win, a streak spanning four tournaments, was certainly on the cards against a Moroccan side without a win in 24 years at international football’s flagship event. After the Africans’ most comfortable 2-0 win over Roberto Martinez’s side, Belgium’s strength appears to be fading faster than previously thought.

Perhaps he was focused on taking a stand against discrimination after all, because what Eden Hazard offered on the pitch was as gentle as his moral compass. A shadow of himself, Hazard is the embodiment of a team whose best years are behind them.

At one point in the second half, de Bruyne seemed so annoyed at the passes going astray that he continued to stare straight ahead as the action unfolded behind him. This isn’t Manchester City or anything close to that level. That had become abundantly clear.

Even the introduction of all-time all-time leading goalscorer Romelu Lukaku did little to spur on a side who by then were already 1-0 down and appeared to have accepted their fate.

“There are a lot of things going through my head at the moment that I shouldn’t say to the outside world,” said Jan Vertonghen.

“It’s very frustrating. We weren’t good in the first game, but we were lucky. Today we didn’t create any chances from what I could see.”

The former Tottenham defender is not wrong. Aside from Dries Mertens’ second-half goal and an early shot by fellow footballer Michi Batshuayi, Belgium didn’t even threaten the Moroccan goal.

And the North Africans also missed Bono, their number one goalkeeper, under the most inopportune circumstances.

After Bono sang the national anthem with his hand over his heart, he was replaced by understudy Munir Mohamedi in the starting XI before the team photo had even taken place. It later turned out to be a problem with the stopper’s vision.

Despite their keeper’s mysterious moves, Morocco were ready to chase for victory with or without him, raging in some early tackles to leave Belgium on a dizzy spell.

It didn’t matter who was in goal at the end. While the stadium was almost completely filled with exuberant Moroccans dressed head to toe in the national red, Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech thought he had put the Africans ahead in first-half injury time, with Thibaut Courtois not covering himself in glory , but the Real Madrid no. 1 was given an almighty reprieve as offside was ruled out.

With Belgium struggling to string together more than a handful of passes in the second half, the goal that really shook the Kasbah to the core was eerily similar to the unrecognized try when former Huddersfield winger Abdelhamid Sabiri lashed a free-kick down the middle . Former Wolves defender Romain Saiss distracted him in the direction of the goal. Courtois should have held it in truth again but this time there was no offside flag to get him off the hook.

Not done yet, another substitute, Zakaria Aboukhlal, sealed one of the most famous victories in African football history, only to rub Belgium’s noses in their own dirt a little more.

“I’m not satisfied with four points,” said Morocco coach Walid Regragui. “We want more than that.

“We brought together two of the best teams in the world and that’s the way we must continue.”

There are many reasons for this optimism, with Morocco within reach for the second time in the history of the last 16.

Belgium still have a place in the knockout rounds in the air, but the hardest thing to bear is the realization that the end is near for this team.

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