The pre-tournament excitement about this very talented Belgium squad has sobered after two narrow and uninspiring wins in Brazil. This has put them top of Group G and through to the Round of 16, yet it’s hardly been satisfying or convincing.
The arc of slow starts, flat middles, and late highs is not a path to dominance. The defense has proven consistent, but the problems lie in front of the strong defense and the best midfield combination seems yet to be determined. After going down 1-0 to Algeria, Moussa Dembélé and Nacer Chadli made manager Marc Wilmot’s decision to start them a poor one, but his substitutions inspired – one being Marouane Fellaini, the Everton version. Most surprising has been an ineffectual attack led by Romelu Lukaku’s absenteeism and behind him, Eden Hazard is still searching for influence. The three Belgian goals have been scored by substitutes, including the winner against Russia by 19 year-old Divock Origi.
South Korea could provide Belgium with an opportunity to successfully work some kinks out and improve as they advance at the expense of a vulnerable opponent.
South Korea’s qualifying campaign and lead-up to Brazil failed to impress. In their final warm-up matches they lost to Tunisia and, to given a sense of where they stand against teams that actually qualified for the World Cup, they lost to Ghana 4-0. They haven’t been given much of a chance to move on.
Then suddenly the whole sputtering journey looked buoyant following an opening 1-1 draw with Russia. A survey revealed that 7 out of 10 Koreans believed the team would get out of the group stage. Then the Algerians embarrassed them 4-2 and that confident majority was left crushed and angry. Some prayed, while others, walked:
“I requested vacation days for the first and third matches to cheer on the team properly, but now I’m planning on canceling my vacation day and just going to work on Thursday.”
South Korea can still qualify but with most of the tiebreakers unfavorable, chances are slim and vacation time precious. Nevertheless, there are those who carry on.
In the Korean Times, the battle cry came in the byline: “Belgian Waffles for Lunch!” The Hardworking and well-respected midfielder Han kook-young, distraught over his poor performance against Algeria, said he would be devastated to go home without making amends.
“I don’t really care if I get injured against Belgium and if it ends up being the last game of my career. I want to give everything I have until the final whistle.” Belgium are overwhelming favorites, yet odds matter little against the foolishly hopeful and blindly determined.