It was 20 years ago today – give or take a few days – the Belgian team seemed to lose its way!
Twenty years ago, almost to the day, Belgium faced Saudi Arabia after having won their first two games in the World Cup. With Georges Grün having already picked up a yellow card, coach Paul Van Himst decided to rest him and several other players: Vital Borkelmans, Marc Degryse and Josep Weber.
If Belgium had defeated Saudi Arabia, they would have faced Ireland in the last 16. Instead they lost 1-0 and had to play Germany, losing 3-2 in Chicago. Among the players who came into the side to face Saudi Arabia was Marc Wilmots; he had chances to score but didn’t and was replaced after 54 minutes by Weber.
The same situation exists today as Belgium face South Korea. They’ve won their first two games and the team is likely to be changed – partly due to yellow cards having been collected by Toby Alderweireld and Axel Witsel. The difference is that Belgium have already qualified for the last 16, which wasn’t the case back in 1994. There they eventually had to qualify via one of the best third-placed teams.
Enzo Scifo, who captained the side, said it wasn’t the changes that made them lose to Saudi Arabia but rather the belief that they could win the game simply by turning up. Ironically, Wilmots had lost his place in the side to Weber, a fast-tracked naturalised Croat. On the return to Belgium, Wilmots said he would not play for Belgium again. He later changed his mind after Van Himst had been replaced.
Today’s squad looks much stronger than that of 1994 and it’s unthinkable that Wilmots would let a side of his go onto the pitch thinking that the game was already won. The danger is that if things do go wrong, Belgium could once again face Germany. Game on!