Five things we learned from Belgium vs Colombia
It was billed as the clash of the dark horses (who are not actually dark horses being in FIFA’s Top 5 ranked teams) and after a slow start, one horse outshone the other. Actually, that’s probably unfair on horses, Belgium played a bit like tired mules who weren’t really up for a mid-November friendly on a cold wet night in Brussels (cliché alert).
Those who don’t believe in the hype of the generation got their evidence in this contest. The 2-0 loss was Belgium’s first defeat since for exactly a year, when they succumbed to Romania in November 2012, and while it was only a friendly, there are some issues which Marc Wilmots needs to see to. Colombia are comfortably among the best three sides in South America, perhaps even one of the best in the world, and it provided ample opportunity to test the Rode Duivels mettle against new opposition. Yet something failed to spark tonight. Here’s five points we at Benefoot picked up on from the match with Colombia.
1. Benteke needs to find his goalscoring touch…and fast! (Chris Mayer)
Once again given a starting berth by Wilmots, Benteke struggled to make an impression up front all night for the Rode Duivels. He had the first chance seven minutes in, when the debuting Thomas Meunier supplied him with a gilt-edged chance, but the Villa striker headed it down into the ground and wide. It was a story that would repeat itself through his 75 minutes on the field, missing several chances. Perhaps Benteke is still regaining his touch following injury, and hasn’t had enough game time at club level recently, but also a concern was his link-up with the three players behind. It was fairly non-existent, typified by his header back to no one just after half time.
His prolfigacy in front of goal was magnified when Falcao broke the offside trap and rounded Mignolet with his first clear-cut chance of the evening – a hallmark of a truly world-class international forward. While Benteke can reach that level, he must improve if he is to maintain the striking spot ahead of Romelu Lukaku in the national side, who fortunately for the former, didn’t offer too much in the game when appearing from the bench.
2. Meunier – good start then ruthlessly exploited (Chris Mayer)
The selection of Club Brugge right-back Thomas Meunier against Colombia was perhaps a surprise to some, with many expecting Wilmots to give him minutes against slightly easier opposition. However, Meunier, who was recently converted to the right-back position by Juan Carlos Garrido at his club, was given the nod. He looked good in the opening exchanges, providing a good cross and tackling well. However as the game wore on, it became clear that Meunier isn’t yet ready for the level, countless times playing on attackers on side.
In truth, Belgium’s entire defence were sloppy in the second half, failing to deal with the relentless pace of the opposition, but Meunier was exposed as the weakest link of the bunch. He even admitted after the game that the speed of the Colombians was something he hadn’t seen before. Wilmots is well within his remit to test out new ideas, but this one backfired. The question is – which right-back is next?
3. The midfield is too flat (Michiel Jongsma)
With two magic ‘fros in there and a fuzzy beard to complement it, you wouldn’t say this midfield needs more eccentricity. But in reality, the former Standard de Liege trio of Axel Witsel, Marouane Fellaini and Steven Defour have been looking rather flat over the last few games for Belgium. The three are all more than capable of playing in a holding role, although it must be said that Fellaini hasn’t looked too comfortable as a controlling midfielder following his move to Manchester United, but the lack of an inventive spark has been quite a problem.
At the moment, Belgium is very much reliant on the chances created from the wing, more specifically the wingers. Given the lack of overlap on either side as Belgium still struggle to line-up natural full-backs, the recipe to kill off the attacking play of the Belgians is rather simple at the moment. In central midfield, Belgium still has quite some options, as Hazard is capable of playing in the middle and Wilmots has players like Chadli (who thrived as a 10 for Twente) and Dembele of Tottenham Hotspur at his disposal. Witsel seems sure of his place, but of the lesser mobile Defour and Fellaini surely one should be dropped to add fluidity and depth to the midfield of the Belgians.
4. Kompany needed at the back (Chris Mayer)
We touched upon this earlier, but the back four of Thomas Meunier, Toby Alderweireld, a bandaged up Thomas Vermaelen and Jan Vertonghen were not at their best during the evening, failing to deal with the pressing game of Jose Pekerman’s side in the first half particularly well, and collapsing when they turned up the tempo and broke in the second half.
While the lack of recognised full-back is a well-documented problem for this team, they still only let in four goals in qualifying. Much of that was down to two players – firstly Thibaut Courtois for his freakish excellence in goal and his ability to bail out the defence numerous times and captain Vincent Kompany. While Belgium’s statesmen missed a few games in qualifying, the calming presence he provides at the back cannot be underestimated, in that each player know where he stands. Tonight, there was chaos at times in front of Simon Mignolet, who looked slightly fearful of those in ahead of him. The Liverpool keeper needs these two games to showcase his abilities as a capable No.2 but he needs a greater understanding with those in front of him to do that, and naturally that will come with more time on the field. Whether he gets any more after the Japan game looks like unlikely.
5. Fine-tuning is fine really, Marc (Chris Mayer)
Before all the hipsters cry all their salty tears and we lose our cool with this talented generation, we have to remember it’s just a friendly. As the late film director-turned-insurance-peddler Michael Winner once said, ‘calm down dear, it’s an international friendly.’ He definitely said this.
Belgium have done all the hard work (very well we might add) and now is the perfect time to test out new ideas in preparation for Brazil. Nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that. Writing them off on a duff half would be utterly stupid.
In truth, tonight’s match showed us little we didn’t already know about this team – in terms of its strengths and weaknesses. Belgium have played much worse and got results before in qualifying. On the plus side, Eden Hazard and Axel Witsel both put in good performances. By contrast, Kevin De Bruyne’s spell out of the Chelsea fold negated his impact this evening (a concern we’ll touch upon at a later date), Wilmots’ side still refuse to be clinical and put any side to the sword and the defence can look lob-sided upon occasion. Belgium are good, just not as good as others may lead you to believe.
But it matters little in all honesty, it is a maturing side gaining their stripes and it’ll be interesting to see how Belgium deal with this defeat. The concern is that 45 minutes like the second half against a team in Brazil and Belgium could well be making an early exit. Onwards to the Japan game, where we should see more tinkering from Wilmots and give us further food for thought.