In their first match of the European Championships, Belgium went down to a disciplined Italian team, 2-0 through goals by Emanuele Giaccherini and Graziano Pelle.
Expectations are high on Marc Wilmots side who are currently ranked number 2 in the FIFA world rankings. The team boasts highly talented players in Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne among others. However, when the lights shine bright in tournament play, this golden generation falls short of expectations.
Coaching decisions could be a part of the problem. Wilmots has not been able to put the right collection of players in their correct spots.
During Monday’s match, he started Kevin De Bruyne wide right and played Manchester United midfielder, Maroune Fellaini through the middle in the number 10, leaving no room for Dries Mertens in the lineup. This lineup isolated De Bruyne on the wing which lessens the impact of the City midfielder in the match. With the all-Juventus backline of Bonucci, Chellini, and Barzagli dominating aerial crosses in the box, the usefulness of Fellaini was limited to nil since he does not have any other qualities to affect the match.
There are also dilemmas that Wilmots can not control. For example, they do not have any international ready fullbacks. They trotted out Laurent Ciman and Jan Vertonghen has fullbacks. Both played admirably but not having quality fullbacks kept Wilmots from inserting the Tottenham partnership of Vertonghen and Alderweireld that was successful in the Premier League.
There seems to be a personality problem in the side. From the national anthem on, the commitment to the game was lacking. Movement off the ball was static, the touches were not crisp, and the defending was amateurish. It was like Belgium was playing in a friendly instead of the first game of a major tournament. They are missing their leader in Vincent Kompany, but someone has to step up and take the reins as a vocal leader when the chips are down.
Talent is only going to take teams so far. The Red Devils need to show more character to realize their potential. If they get to the knockout stages, the difference between winning and losing will be minimal. The players and technical staff will need to suffer to advance past teams who have just as much talent as they do. Can this be done with a team who does not have the right personality?
Belgium has two more matches against opponents they should handle easily in Ireland and Sweden. Their talent should shine bright against teams who are not as organized collectively as Italy. When they get deeper into this tournament, will their heart and personality match their talent level? Or will the Low Country nation fall flat and be an overrated generation of players who could not get the job done?