Euro 2024: France ride on Vertonghen own goal to oust Belgium, enter quarters | Football News

Euro 2024: France ride on Vertonghen own goal to oust Belgium, enter quarters | Football News

The left leg of Emiliano Martinez may have prevented Randal Kolo Muani from winning a World Cup. On Monday, it was the left leg of Jan Vertonghen that directed his shot into the Belgium goal. It was enough to decide this cagey, intense match and take France to the quarter-final of the European championship. To think that a match where Kylian Mbappe, Romelu Lukaku, Antoine Griezmann, Jeremy Doku and Kevin de Bruyne were present would be decided by an own goal!

France players celebrate their goal against Belgium in the Round of 16 game in Dusseldorf. (AP)
France players celebrate their goal against Belgium in the Round of 16 game in Dusseldorf. (AP)

It was at this stage that France went home from the last European championship, crashing against Switzerland after looking to be cruising till nine minutes from time. Unlike the last time, Belgium would exit one round earlier.

The goal in the 85th minute came off a typically elaborate France move, the ball going from right to left and right again and involving Theo Hernandez, Adrien Rabiot, Mbappe, Griezmann, N’Golo Kante and Jules Kounde before Kolo Muani, in for Marcus Thurram, could turn and shoot. It wasn’t pretty, little from either side was, but 1-0 for France it would be. Cue, celebrations.

France had more chances but were not clinical. The first time Mbappe had the ball, three Belgians converged. It set the trend in Dusseldorf. France managed to get all their forwards involved early but typical of a team that had 47 attempts and no goal from open play in three earlier games, the front three didn’t really threaten Koen Casteels’ goal.

Thurram headed out in the 34th minute after William Saliba’s raking diagonal freed Kounde. The France right-back fed Thurram again in the 50th and again the effort was off target. Symptomatic of France’s forward play in the first half, which ended with Aurelien Tchouameni shanking his shot after Mbappe falling, stumbling, swaying still found him, were passes from Griezmann that were too fast. Tchouameni tried from distance twice in the second half but neither shot tested Casteels.

Soon after, Mbappe almost conjured a goal out of nothing. He took the ball and cut in, accelerating even as he beat two players, De Bruyne among them, but the shot went over. It was the same in the 78th minute when Kolo Muani and Kounde combined to find him.

While Mbappe was involved from the off, Lukaku was not, reined in as he was by Saliba. And neither were Jeremy Doku nor Kevin de Bruyne, who was operating from deeper than usual till the 63rd minute when Orel Mangala gave the Belgium captain the licence to move up. It wasn’t till the 71st minute that Lukaku could test Mike Maignan in France’s goal and it wasn’t till 10 minutes later that De Bruyne did likewise.

Earlier, Yannick Carrasco did break once but Belgium’s first real move came to nothing. It wasn’t till the 23rd minute that Doku found space, needing Griezmann to make a tackle for which he was booked. His presence confined to the team sheet till then, De Bruyne stepped up to take the free-kick and got his shot to bounce awkwardly in front of Maignan, who had to leg it out.

The next time De Bruyne did something of note was in the 61st minute when he played Carrasco on with a peach of a pass and it needed Hernandez to make the tackle of the tournament for France to prevent Maignan from being tested. Hernandez had also blocked Carrasco’s shot in the first half after another Doku run had Lois Openda turning Thurram inside out.

The last time Belgium beat France in a competitive football match, in 1981, India were two years from winning a cricket World Cup, Cristiano Ronaldo had not been born and the Hollywood actor after whom he had been named was president of the USA. In the European championship of 1984, Michel Platini had run rings around them and in 2018, France beat Belgium in the World Cup semi-final.

History matters, but only that much. Switzerland showed that in their takedown of Italy, a team they hadn’t beaten since 1993. Belgium, limp so far like in the 2022 World Cup, couldn’t be brave like coach Domenico Tedesco had said they would be. Neither was France but they know how to win these matches in tournament football.

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