Belgium 1-1 Greece
They may have no European Championship to look forward to this summer but any suggestion that Greece, who were surprise champions of Europe in 2004, would be the ideal International Friendly opposition for the world’s number one-ranked nation was dismissed at the King Baudouin Stadium on Thursday night.
Not only did they draw against Roberto Martinez’s side but they were good value as their impressive record under coach John van’t Schip continued in Brussels.
Yes they may have failed to match up to their lofty standards in recent times, even failing to qualify for the Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup, but here was another spirited showing which highlighted their newfound pride and return to form as they extended their unbeaten record into an eighth month.
Highlights of the game
The SBOTOP International Friendly 2021 betting odds, not to mention many a pundit, naturally backed Belgium to ease to victory just nine days before their Euro 2020 opener.
After all, this is their “golden generation” with the forthcoming tournament presenting them with the opportunity to stamp their authority on the international stage and build for World Cup in Qatar next year.
True to form, the fitness of Kevin De Bruyne – forced off with injury in last weekend’s Champions League Final and a doubt for the start of the tournament – meant he was not able to be included in the hosts’ starting lineup, while Axel Witsel and Eden Hazard were out.
Greece also had absentees with the likes of Kostas Fortounis, Kostas Stafylidis, and Dimitris Siovas all missing.
It went to plan early on as Belgium set the tone and produced the opening goal inside 20 minutes as Eden’s brother Thorgan Hazard exchanged passes with Yannick Carrasco before coolly converting at the near post for his sixth goal in Belgium colours.
Despite missing their main creative talents, Carrasco offered glimpses of his talent taking on the role of talisman.
Romelu Lukaku was denied from point-blank range by Odisseas Vlachodimos, while Hazard could have had a second before the break only for the Borussia Dortmund man to strike the outside of the post with the goal at his mercy.
Yet it was far from one-way traffic and Gorgios Masouras would have fired them in front early on but for a superb stop from goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
As the match progressed, there was more clear evidence that van’t Schip is steering Greece in the right direction.
After an unbeaten Nations League campaign – although three draws prevented them from usurping Slovenia and earning promotion to League B – they had already managed to hold Spain to a 1-1 draw in their first World Cup qualifier.
And when Kyriakos Papadopoulos’ diving header struck the post midway through the second half, Georgios Tzavellas converted the rebound, stabbing home from close range.
The main International Friendly 2021 highlights to talk about were a number of feisty encounters as opposed to clear goalscoring chances as both nations had to settle for a share of the spoils.
Looking ahead, while the absence of De Bruyne and Eden Hazard cannot be underestimated, neither can the loss of Witsel who is recovering after he tore an Achilles tendon in January.
A unique profile that adds balance to the team and is crucial in the protection of an aging defence – Toby Alderweireld (32), Jan Vertonghen (34), and Thomas Vermaelen (35) are near the end of their careers. Belgium’s position as one of the favourites could be undermined without key returns.
This results matters little but the performance will provide food of thought for Martinez.
Greece have only lost three of the 18 games under van’t Schip since he took charge of the team in July 2019 (W8, D7).
Belgium and Greece have met 10 times and there have now been four draws with both nations winning three games each.
Belgium are unbeaten in their last five outings against Greece, winning two and drawing the other three.
Belgium have lost just two of their 29 games since their defeat in the 2018 World Cup semifinal against France (W23, D4).
Greece have not lost since October last year, although have managed to win just four of their nine matches.
It’s Croatia at home for Belgium on Sunday night (June 6) before they begin their bid for Euro 2020 glory against Russia on June 12.
Greece have a friendly in Norway on Sunday evening to officially round off their 2020/21 campaign.
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