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Soccer

The Belgians Are A Bunch Of Surgeons

Belgium's midfielder Kevin De Bruyne celebrates scoring the team's second goal during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group B football match between Denmark and Belgium at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen on June 17, 2021.
Photo by Jonathan Nackstrand/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

If you’d like to know why Roberto Martínez is the envy of soccer managers the world over, it is because he can find his Belgian squad down a goal, and think to himself, Gee, this is no fun, how about I try to fix this by substituting on Kevin De Bruyne at halftime, and 15 minutes later sending on Eden Hazard? The Belgium roster is an embarrassment of attacking riches, and those riches find no trouble in slicing apart any and all opposition.

Denmark, the Red Devil’s opponents today, scored a surprise opener 98 seconds into the match after forcing Belgium into a build-up error. The starting Belgium group had trouble fighting back from the deficit, and only managed a single shot during a poor first half. The second half was a different story, as it was always going to be once Belgium subbed on two of the best players in the world (when healthy).

It was the other Hazard who leveled things, when Thorgan rode the crest of a beautiful, rolling wave of an attack with a simple strike from the goal’s doorstep:

After laying on the assist for Thorgan’s equalizer, Kevin De Bruyne hit the winner himself to cap another, similarly sublime team move:

The precision involved in both of these goals is nuts. The bulk of Romelu Lukaku’s work on the first came off thanks to his physical power, but the soft touch toward the middle of the pitch that gets him past one defender and lures in another, and then the perfectly measured big touch that lets him fly past the second are just stupidly exact bits of skill. And that’s even before you get to De Bruyne’s body language on his feigned shot, which had to be subtle enough to look realistic but legible enough for the defenders to notice and fall for the bait.

The second goal was more of the same. You had Lukaku dancing around defenders like a man half a foot shorter and 50 pounds lighter, Thorgan’s spinning first-time flick that he then transitioned into a weird little run that sucked in the widest Dane defender, Eden turning Thorgan’s bobbling flick into a satin-like roller out to De Bruyne, and KDB’s blast into the near post.

The simplest definition of technique in soccer is the ability to get the ball to do exactly what you want it to do, and the Belgian team is absolutely lousy with players capable of translating their intentions to the ball. It’s a large part of what makes Belgium so good, and so amazing to watch.

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