Belgium 2-1 Serbia: Devilish De Bruyne opens up a three point lead
Belgium continued their excellent record in World Cup Qualifying Group A and moved three points clear of Croatia at the top following a 2-1 win over Serbia in a wonderfully atmospheric Koning Boudewijnstadion/Stade Roi Baudouin in Brussels.
Marc Wilmots stuck with Toby Alderweireld at rightback and Marouane Fellaini in midfield, however Nacer Chadli was preferred to Mousa Dembélé. Daniel van Buyten partnered Vincent Kompany and Kevin Mirallas retained his spot as one of the two wide players.
Belgium began brightly and were able to use their pace in attack to get at Serbia’s experienced backline. Benteke began well as a reference point but he would not build upon that, De Bruyne didn’t take long to unveil his compendium of short and long-range passing and Mirallas had the first shot, when he fired wide.
Les Diables Rouges ensured their promising beginning to the game led to a goal. Jan Vertonghen, who at times is so good at leftback that you would forget it is not his preferred position, had plenty of time to pick out De Bruyne at the near post. The Werder Bremen man stooped to head home past a disappointing Stojkovic at the near post. He’s not known for his aerial ability but as we’ve seen in recent Belgium games (and at club level), there’s little he cannot turn his hand to.
De Bruyne continued to spray the ball around with Serbia only really having a nondescript shot from Kolarov to show for their efforts. Benteke was sent clear by Chadli only for a combination of Stojkovic and a horrendous touch to see the chance go begging – and not for the only time during the match. It’s important to remember this side are not all-conquering and they had a couple of close shaves as the first half wore on.
The unmarked and dangerous Branislav Ivanovic shot narrowly wide at a set play and Alderweireld cleared off the line from Markovic. Kompany was involved in a nasty clash of heads with Stojkovic, which left him with a headache and claret streaming from his nose but when he returned to his feet without much of a delay, the home fans cheered ecstatically, as if it were the Rumble in the Jungle or the Thrilla in Manila.
Wilmots decided to leave the team as it was for the second half but sent Lukaku and Eden Hazard to warm up. Belgium began to look a little devoid of options and when Alderweireld could only launch the ball up field to an opponent, it came back rather quickly when Courtois was alert to tip Basta’s drive around the post. De Rode Duivels needed something to spark them into life once more.
— BeNeFoot (@BeNeFoot) June 7, 2013
Unsurprisingly, Kevin De Bruyne was at the heart of the second goal. A wicked free kick was headed behind at the near post but the ensuing corner from his magic feet found Fellaini, who given his considerable aerial prowess could not fail to head home the corner for his second headed goal in as many games during this international break. So much for taking him off though it was going through Wilmots’ head at the time.
Courtois was still being tested at the other end and he pulled off a stunning save to deny Markovic, who went away from the game wondering how he didn’t end up on the scoresheet. When the final score from Croatia flashed up on the scoreboard, a spine-tingling cheer rang out around the entire stadium and the crowd erupted into a state of sheer ecstasy.
Benteke was lacking the conviction he has shown so often for Aston Villa this season, fluffing his lines by missing a simple chance after a wonderful move involving substitute Hazard and De Bruyne before having a meek shot saved by Stojkovic. Not that it’s cut and dry that Lukaku should start the next qualifier – he came on to play alongside Benteke (as they had done in the United States) but when the Villa man played him through, he took the touch of an elephant and the chance was gone.
Serbia had been kept at bay by Courtois and Alderweireld but not even the Atletico goalkeeper could do anything about a late Kolarov free kick, which reduced the deficit to one goal, as well as the length of many fans’ fingernails as the tension went up a notch or ten. Serbia had a chance right at the death when they won a corner but fittingly, Courtois came and punched away before 45,000+ punched the bright, summer air upon the final whistle.
Wilmots had remarked before the game that nothing would change whatever the result but he surely had not counted on Scotland taking all three points and the significance of the three points was there for all to see as Willy celebrated on the touchline with his technical staff. Kevin De Bruyne once again put on a footballing exhibition in national team colours. He is an outstanding player and as good as any outfielder in the side for my money. It is unfathomable why any club would countenance letting a player of this calibre slip through their fingers.
The players will now board a plane and go off on a very well deserved holiday. Belgium aren’t yet on the plane to Brazil but tonight, they moved one step closer.