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Ukraine 0-0 Belgium: Booed Belgians Advance, Ukraine Farewell Touches Hearts

by: EdwardB


The final whistle blew, and a peculiar scene unfolded. At one end of the pitch, the Ukrainian players, exhausted but unbroken, stood before their fans and were met with a wave of affectionate applause. At the opposite end, their Belgian counterparts were hesitant even to approach their supporters, driven back by a chorus of boos and jeers so intense that Kevin De Bruyne ushered his team towards the sanctuary of the dressing room. In a strange twist of fate, it was the eliminated Ukraine who received a hero’s farewell, while the victorious Belgians were condemned for their lackluster performance.

Ukraine Bows Out With Heads Held High

While the final scoreboard reflected a 0-0 defeat for Ukraine, their departure from Euro 2024 was marked by a sense of pride rather than despair. Having secured four points equal to every other team in their group and exceeding the tally of some who advanced their elimination felt cruel. It is impossible to ignore the context of their campaign, overshadowed by the ongoing war in their homeland. In every interview, and every press conference, their players spoke of the anguish they felt for loved ones huddled around radios, clinging to a sliver of normalcy amidst the conflict. Their primary objective, beyond sporting glory, was to remind the world of their plight, and in this, they succeeded with unwavering dignity. This resonated deeply with fans who recognized their bravery and resilience in the face of unimaginable adversity.

However, the road to the knockout stages was always going to be arduous following their opening 3-0 loss to Romania. Despite creating a few nervy moments for Belgium in the closing stages a blocked Artem Dovbyk shot and a ferocious Ruslan Malinovskyi strike they lacked the energy and cutting edge to find the decisive goal.

Ukraine v Belgium

Discontent Echoes Through Belgian Ranks Despite Victory

Despite securing their place in the Round of 16, Belgium’s performance left a bitter taste in the mouths of their supporters. Clad in their Tintin-inspired away kit, they were overly reliant on their own “Tintin” Kevin De Bruyne to unlock the Ukrainian defense. But unlike the iconic comic book hero, De Bruyne found himself desperately short of capable sidekicks. Aside from a few promising dribbles from Jérémy Doku, Belgium’s creative spark flickered intermittently.

The fans’ fury was palpable. Perhaps the fear of conceding a goal that would have sent them crashing out of the tournament fueled their anxiety, but the negativity on display was startling. Belgium resorted to time-wasting tactics, holding the ball in the corner and prioritizing a second-place finish that pitted them against reigning champions France, with the looming prospect of Portugal and potentially Germany or Spain to follow. A victory would have secured an ostensibly easier path in the tournament. It was a risk-averse approach that did little to inspire confidence.

The Curious Case of Romelu Lukaku: A Striker Trapped in a Goal-Scoring Drought

Every conversation surrounding Belgium inevitably circles back to the same, agonizing question: what has happened to Romelu Lukaku? The striker, blessed with the physique of Didier Drogba, the hold-up play of Niall Quinn, and the movement of Thomas Müller, seems to have made a Faustian pact. Despite having scored more goals than anyone else in his country’s history, and possibly being on course to exceed the combined totals of Belgium’s second, third, and fourth-highest goal scorers, he seems to have lost his natural talent for scoring goals.

His portrayal of a nearly Shakespearean tragedy in the World Cup match against Croatia was a lesson in adversity, starting as a cause for laughter – surely, he wouldn’t miss another time? – and then evolving into something entirely surprising. Effort after effort went begging, saved, or ruled out, as his self-belief visibly crumbled. It seemed as if the weight of Atlas himself was on his shoulders.

One might have thought he had paid his debt to the footballing gods, but his trials have continued. He has put the ball in the net three times at this year’s tournament, but each time the goal was disallowed: first for a clear offside, then for a handball in the build-up, and finally for an agonizingly tight offside call.

It was little wonder that his confidence seemed shot. Seven minutes into the match against Ukraine, De Bruyne, with characteristic vision, slipped him through on goal. Lukaku had a clear opportunity, was onside, and had only the goalkeeper to beat. He shaped to shoot, and then…almost missed the ball entirely, scuffing a tame effort into the grateful arms of Anatoliy Trubin. Another Doku cross sailed just out of reach, and he squandered a promising opportunity in the box with a telegraphed side-footed shot. Seven shots on target in the tournament, more than any other player, and yet the goal drought continued.

Romelu Lukaku

A Cloud Hangs Over Belgium as Ukraine Bids a Dignified Farewell

As Belgium advances to face the daunting prospect of France, a sense of unease lingers. Their lackluster performance against Ukraine, coupled with the ongoing mystery surrounding Lukaku’s form, has cast a shadow over their ambitions. Meanwhile, Ukraine exits the tournament with heads held high, leaving behind a legacy that transcends the final scoreline. We will not forget their courage, both on and off the pitch, and the applause that followed them off the pitch testified to their spirit and resilience.

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