• Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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Euro 2024: Slovakia shock tournament favorites Belgium

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Slovakia pulled off a major upset in their Euro 2024 debut, stunning Group E favourites Belgium with a 1-0 victory in Frankfurt on Monday.

The match was not short of drama, as Romelu Lukaku thought he had levelled the score in the final minutes, only for the video assistant referee (VAR) to disallow the goal for a handball in the build-up.

It marked Lukaku’s second goal to be ruled out by VAR, the first being a header from Amadou Onana’s cross earlier in the game.

Ivan Schranz capitalised on a defensive error by Manchester City’s Jeremy Doku to give Slovakia the lead. The goal came as a shock to Belgium, who are ranked third in the world, while Slovakia sits 45 places below in 48th.

Despite numerous chances, including several for their all-time top scorer Lukaku, Belgium failed to find the net. Substitute Johan Bakayoko was denied a goal by a spectacular goal-line clearance from Slovakia’s David Hancko in a lively 90-minute encounter.

Belgium’s struggles continued as they trailed at halftime, with Doku’s mistake proving costly for the team’s rhythm. Kevin de Bruyne and Leandro Trossard of Man City and Arsenal posed threats to Belgium, but their efforts did not yield goals. Lukas Haraslin of Slovakia also made notable attempts, forcing a crucial save from Koen Casteels with a well-executed volley.

Having exited the 2022 World Cup in the group stage, Belgium now faces Romania next as they aim to bounce back.

The once-promising “golden generation” of Belgian football has lost much of its shine since its disappointing exit from the 2022 World Cup group stage.

Despite reaching the quarter-finals in the last two European Championships, their third-place finish at the 2018 World Cup remains the pinnacle of achievement for a talented yet consistently underperforming team.

Following Roberto Martinez’s departure, Domenico Tedesco took over in February 2023 and guided Belgium through a promising 14-match unbeaten streak leading up to Euro 2024.

Reflecting on the recent loss, Tedesco remarked, “I knew that eventually we would lose a game. Unfortunately, it was today.” He acknowledged the team’s missed opportunities, stating, “The only thing that we didn’t do well was missing chances. We had plenty. It’s part of the game. Of course, the players were disappointed.”

As Belgium looks to recover from this setback, questions loom about their capacity to reclaim their potential and aspirations in the tournament ahead.

Meanwhile, Slovakia, buoyed by their perfect start to Euro 2024, will take on Ukraine in their next match after their stunning 3-0 victory over Ukraine earlier on Monday.

As Belgium prepares to play in Cologne on Saturday, they will be keen to recover lost ground in the tournament.