Rod Liddle Rod Liddle

What a pleasure to see Belgium blow it again

Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku (Credit: Getty Images)

Ok, so I’m partisan, granted. This was a game between my favourite mainland European country and the continent’s noisome, jihadi-replete, sewer. Sure, the VAR decisions against that grand old stager Romalu Lukaku– especially the latter one – were utter absurdities. There are microscopic infractions whenever a player has the ball and it is neither in the spirit of the game nor, I would suggest, the laws, to punish them all.  That’s VAR for you.

But whatever, that game cheered me up more than I can adequately express. The biggest upset in this tournament in more than 30 years, apparently. And yet the victory was truly deserved: it was no fluke. Belgium had by far the better players. Slovakia had by far the better team. Jeremy Doku, for example, is a brilliant, mercurial, player – but is he going to track back for the good of his team and fling in that last-ditch tackle? No, it is quite beneath his dignity. And for Doku read, pretty much, the rest.

Slovakia meanwhile fought for each other and moved forwards quickly with sharp, incisive, often selfless passes. No showboating, no arsing around – 1-0. And they stuck to it, as a proper team will do, with grit instead of petulance. One of my favourite ever players was a Slovak – Ladislav Petras, who led the line for Czechoslovakia in the 1970 World Cup. That team was the basis for a truly great international side four years later. I hope Ladislav, now aged 77, was watching this game with great happiness. 

And Belgium? It might be the last hurrah for a team often praised but which so often has failed to deliver. Both Lukaku and De Bruyne are past pensionable age. I don’t really know what the term means, but they have always flattered to deceive. Impressive Romania may well deliver the coup de grace.

France next. I’m quite pro-French at the moment (for me, at least). But I will try not to let that influence my match report.

Belgium 0-1 Slovakia