With the Belgium U17 team having already qualified for the next stage of the Euros, with Charly Musonda Jr., Zakaria Bakkali and Andreas Pereira on the pitch and with Marc Wilmots in the stands, the stage was set for a big party last night in the far-flung reaches of Eeklo.
The Netherlands U17s were the guests, Eeklo is about 10 kilometres from the border between the two countries, and they certainly spoiled the party. A well-drilled Dutch team, winners of the last two U17 championships, came from behind to snatch victory in the last few minutes.
With both teams going on to the next “elite” stage next Spring, the result was not a disaster but the match did show up the difference in styles. The Dutch had the appearance of being a team where everyone knew their role and they kept going to the end. Belgium, on the other hand, tended to rely – or were forced to rely – on the actions of several extremely talented and sometimes over-confident individuals.
It was interesting to note the difference in the line-ups: rather like the Belgian national team, the best-known names are already playing outside of Belgium’s borders, whereas all 11 of the Dutch like-up still play inside that country. Certainly Dutch clubs have a better reputation than their Belgian counterparts in bringing on talent and that has probably played a part. As an example, five of the current Belgian national squad spent their formative years in the Netherlands.
The match was watched by a pretty good crowd – possibly 2,000 I would think – considering it was a damp Sunday night in October. On 15 minutes, Chelsea’s Musonda jinked his way between at least three defenders and fired in a shot that the Dutch keeper Groothuyzen should have stopped but didn’t. At this stage of the game, PSV’s Bakkali – playing wide left for Belgium – was looking unstoppable. He was taking on man after man, twisting and turning like a young Maradona. Unfortunately Bakkali doesn’t yet know when to pass the ball and eventually he either ran into one Dutch defender too many or was fouled. He was hacked down after 20 minutes and Manchester United’s Pereira was just wide with the free kick. At this stage the Dutch started to get into the game and Manchester City’s Bossaerts slipped but it wasn’t fatal.
All this time, Musonda was gaining rounds of applause by the way he showed off his ability to float past players such that they didn’t seem to be able to get close to him; a rare gift. You could see why Chelsea had been willing to pay a few million for the three Musonda brothers, with the then 15 year-old Charly Jr. being the main target. After 30 minutes, a collective sigh went round the small ground when Musonda was tackled and lost the ball for the first time. There was a nice cameo on 40 minutes when Musonda hit a 40 metre pass to Bakkali who proceeded to beat three men with ease before losing his way. Anderlecht centre back Sefa Isci was looking good on the ball and the whole defence was keeping its shape well. I was also impressed by Gent’s Jinty Caenepeel on Belgium’s right wing; he’s fast, strong and direct.
For the Dutch, PSV’s Riechedly Bazoer looked extremely comfortable at centre back, both in defence and when moving forward. I later discovered he’d been in the winning 2011 Euro U17 squad as a 15 year-old. Heerenveen’s Rewan Amin also caught the eye. At half time I moved from the stands, where Wilmots had seemed to spend a lot of time talking to Belgian FA General Secretary Steven Martens, ex Director of the UK’s Tennis set-up, and moved behind the goal to try and get a few pictures of the expected waves of attacks from the young Belgians. It wasn’t to be as the Dutch took control of the second half, Bakkali kept running up blind allies and Musonda faded. Genk centre forward Siebe Schrijvers – the team’s main scorer in previous games along with Bakkali – would have been right to show his frustration at never receiving an early ball but he didn’t.
On 50 minutes, Alkmaar’s Dabney Dos Santos was just over with a snap shot and there was lots of Dutch pressure. After 64 minutes the Dutch were awarded a penalty – I was too far away to comment, no action replays (Ed: Sparta Rotterdam’s Yassine Ben Mohamadi had been brought down by Gilles Dewaele) – and Bazoer made it 1-1. Almost immediately, Belgium retaliated and Pereira fired in a rocket shot which was tipped just over. About 10 minutes later, I was just noting down that the Dutch had had about six corners when one resulted in the winner, with substitute Ben Mohamadi heading home.
The score remained that way and at the whistle the Dutch linked arms and ran towards their hundred or so travelling supporters to give then ceremonial shout of thanks. Caenepeel stalked off to the dressing room – he’d certainly run his heart out on the right flank – and therefore missed the post-game chat from coach Bob Browaeys and the two laps of the pitch that the rest of the team did.
It was first U17 international I’d seen. I focused on the Belgian team and apart from obvious individual talents of Musonda and Bakkali, I liked the look of Pereira in midfield and Caenepeel on the wing. For the Dutch, Bazoer was the stand-out performer but the while unit was impressive for such an age group.
Final score: Belgium 1 (Musonda, 15) Netherlands 2 (Bazoer, 64 pen; Mohamadi 79).
Substitutes: Netherlands; 39 Yassine Ben Mohamidi for Bart Nieuwkoop; 57 Max de Boom for Issa Kallon; 79 Ali Ulusoy for Jairo Riedewald).Belgium – none. Note: U17 matches have a duration of 80 minutes.