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Wilmots to blame - Wales loss shows Belgium's 'golden generation' needs a better coach

8:38 AM GMT 02/07/2016
Belgium Wales Euro 2016 01072016
The highest-ranked team at Euro 2016 has bowed out at the quarter-final stage for the second successive major tournament - and it's not good enough considering all their talent

GOAL COMMENT

All of Belgium will wonder what went wrong. Their team came into the game against Wales as big favourites, ranked second in the world and with high hopes of advancing in what was almost a home match played just over the border in Lille. But once again, their much-hyped "golden generation" failed to deliver.

Amid the pre-match fun in the centre of Lille on Friday, one fan wore a shirt with "Mexico '86" printed on the back. That was the last time the Red Devils were in the final four of a major tournament and that fact that they are not there again at France 2016 is a damning indictment on the coach and also the best bunch of players this nation has ever had.

It had all started so well. Roma's Radja Nainggolan thumped an unstoppable drive into the top corner after 13 minutes and Wales' worst nightmare had turned into reality. Their coach, Chris Coleman, admitted afterwards, that it was the scenario he had most feared. And his side were on the rocks.

But Belgium failed to take advantage and instead retreated, inviting the pressure onto a makeshift defence featuring two 21-year-olds (Jason Denayer and Jordan Lukaku) and a relatively inexperienced right-back in Thomas Meunier.

"I think we had a good gameplan," coach Marc Wilmots said after the match. "For the first 20 to 25 minutes we were dominating but suddenly we dropped back 15 yards. Maybe we were worried about the space in behind."

Wilmots may have summed up what everybody else had been thinking with those remarks in his post-match press conference, but he must take responsibility for his team's actions on the pitch - and he now overseen another failure with the greatest group of footballers Belgium has ever produced.

The counter-attacking ploy had worked well in previous matches, of course. Belgium's brilliance in midfield and attack means they can pick off teams when there is space to exploit on the break. Against Ireland and Hungary, it had been devstating. But it is not enough - especially with so many absences in defence.

That did not help. Manchester City's Vincent Kompany missed the tournament through injury, while Barcelona's Thomas Vermaelen was out through suspension and Tottenham's Jan Vertonghen turned his ankle ligaments in training in the build-up to the match against Wales.

All of that was unfortunate, but Belgium's team is still superior to Wales in terms of individual ability at least - and they should have played to their strengths further forward to push Coleman's men back as they did in the first 20 minutes in Lille.

Instead, Wales equalised through captain Ashley Williams and went on to secure a historic victory thanks to a wonder goal from Hal Robson-Kanu and a Sam Vokes header to leave Wilmots under pressure and admitting afterwards: "There's a lot of adrenaline going. We'll have to see [about my future]. I won't make my decision straight after the game."

But goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois told Belgian television afterwards that Wilmots had used the same tactics as in the opening defeat against Italy and, asked if the team needed a new coach, he said: "This was an opportunity we may not get again. I gave him my opinion in the dressing room. He has to make his own decision."

Given the age of Belgium's squad, there should be more opportunities in future, but this is the second successive quarter-final exit for Wilmots' men after they lost to Argentina in timid fashion at the World Cup in Brazil two years ago.

"We played better today than we did against Argentina," Eden Hazard said in the mixed zone after the game. "We didn’t play well that day. We lost 1-0, but we had some regrets as we didn’t do enough. Today we played a great first 20 minutes, at the end of the match we all said that we would have liked to continue because we have a lot of quality, but they played with more desire than us today."

That was perhaps not the best assessment of his coach, but it was true and on Wilmots, he added:  "There’s a lot of pressure on him. We have had him as a coach for several years. We have had some great moments with him, some super moments with him. Today we have had a disappointment."

Despite the disappointment, there is still hope that this generation of players can blossom and achieve greater things in the coming years.

"We’re going to keep working with the aim of winning things," Hazard said. "In two years there is a World Cup. That’s another objective, so we’ll think about that, about qualification, then there’s a Euro in 2020. We have a young team so we can be positive about the future."

To fulfil those goals, however, Belgium may just need a new coach.

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