Three thoughts on Belgium’s rise from the dead


The ecstasy of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat (Photo Credit: Fifa/Getty Images)

After what was arguably one of the best matches of World Cup 2018, Belgium moved past Japan to face Brazil on Friday in Kazan.  After going down by two goals in the opening minutes of the second half, Belgium showed some of the marks of a champion by staying relaxed and focused in a hostile situation.  This isn’t exactly a national team known for performing under pressure but they definitely exorcised some of those demons on Monday in Kazan. Here are three things I observed from the “match of the tournament”:

Observation #1: Roberto Martinez made fantastic adjustments

If you would have told me that Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli would be the heroes of Belgium in a World Cup match, I would never believe you in a million years.  However, Fellaini and Chadli’s presence, along with a switch to the 4 defenders in the back, helped boost Belgium’s attack. Fellaini’s aerial abilities and size, especially against a comparatively undersized Japan backline were dominating.  His physicality in the midfield also helped quell Japan’s pacey attacks and allowed Belgium to reinstate their presence on the pitch.

Chadli’s marauding runs into the Japanese third helped reverse some of the pressure that Japan was putting on Belgium and his awareness to make that final run and put the ball in the back of the net in the closing minutes of the match were exceptional.  This was the Nacer Chadli that Tottenham hoped they had and not the Nacer Chadli who played for the recently relegated, West Bromwich Albion. Chadli and Fellaini were crucial in turning the tide of the match back into the Red Devil’s favor.

Observation #2: Belgium may need to scrap the idea of having only 3 defenders in the back.

While there are talented players playing on the backline for Belgium (Kompany, Vertonghen, Alderweireld), they were seriously pressured by the speed of Japan’s forwards and they struggled trying to keep up.  Belgium only playing with a back three also put pressure on midfielders Kevin de Bruyne and Axel Witsel to play a little more defensive than usual and Japan’s midfield was able to advantage of their unease. I always felt like their 3-4-3 was Martinez to get as much of the heralded talent on the pitch and out-talent their opposition rather than a savvy tactical move.  

Once Fellaini and Chadli were inserted into the lineup and the switch was made to a more traditional back four, Belgium regained control of the midfield. It also allowed de Bruyne to play a little higher up the pitch, in a place where he feels more natural. Going forward against a Brazil side with loads of talent, athleticism and speed, it might be a better decision to provide a little more manpower to their backline.

Observation #3: Romelu Lukaku might be one of the most underrated players in the world.

Romelu Lukaku for Manchester United reminds me of the Genie in Aladdin when he’s under Jafar’s control.  Lukaku for Belgium reminds me of the Genie at the end of the movie, freed from the lamp (see above, if you’ve never had a childhood). The Belgian striker has scored four goals in Russia and looks to be a continuing menace for any side to deal with for the rest of Belgium’s world cup run.  

While he didn’t score in this match, he did make one of the most situational and spatially aware moves of the tournament with his soft back heel touch pass to Chadli on the final goal. His run into the box Japanese midfielder Takashi Usami to him and then his awareness of Chadli’s run right behind him and presence to just lay off the shot for a better shot for Chadli was marvelous.  I feel like there is a level between the great and the truly exceptional world soccer player and that sort of awareness is a trait of the truly exceptional.

Belgium and Japan put on what was one of the most exceptional matches in recent World Cup history and my hope is that this Friday’s match versus Brazil will be just as great to watch.  There will be stars galore all across the pitch for both sides and should be an absolute barnburner.


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based in Frederick, MD, USA. Multi-sport correspondent for Prost International and Prost Amerika focusing mainly on Soccer/Football and American Football

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