Belgian fans deserve hard-earned Brazilian reward

  • Despite the late equalizer, Belgium’s fans celebrated their team’s achievement in style.
  • The atmosphere in King Baudouin Stadium was as electric as it’s ever been.

Brazil and Belgium have at least one thing in common: a passion for the carnival, often seen as an excuse to drink copious amounts of alcohol when the appearance of winter forces one to keep company with outdoor heaters. With the thermometer displaying just eight degrees, the weather, unfit for an October night when productivity was required, was more appropriate for the Mardi Gras festivities during the Carnival of Binche than the sensual exploits of samba dancers on the beaches of Rio. Just one man would have been disappointed: Marc Wilmots’ tailor, who was again forced to watch the Belgian manager’s trim suit take a soaking in the torrential rain.

 

Everything was in place, however, for fans to forget about the plunging temperatures and imagine themselves strolling along Brazilian beaches instead. Often derided for its lack of atmosphere in the past, the fans in King Baudouin Stadium rose as one to applaud their heroes’ qualification, achieved on their travels in Scotland and Croatia. This time around, there was no tension or drama, like there was back in 1997 against Ireland, or versus the Czech Republic at Parc Astrid in 1993. The supporters wanted nothing more than to celebrate joyfully, while hoping that the Diables Rouges would add a final cherry to their Brazilian cake. Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was the first to take the acclaim of the crowd, coming on to the pitch to receive a barrage of shots during his pre-match warm-up.

 

The fans were nevertheless a little late to take their seats, their fingers doubtless still covered in grease from their French fries and their breath flavored with the quick beer they had downed under the envious eye of Brussels’ police force. Truth be told, the Belgian faithful deserved more than a few pints on this historic evening, given the difficult times they had endured prior to this remarkable campaign. They were deserving of a party worthy of their incredible support, which they had demonstrated in style in Glasgow. After the Welsh national anthem was applauded by the entire stadium, La Brabançonne sent a shiver up the spine of those who had got out of the habit of hearing the song belted out in unison, as an emotional King Philippe looked on.

 

In English, in one corner of the stadium, a banner asked the question, “Bart, are you watching us?” The samba continued in the bleachers, its rhythmic movement provided a stark contrast with the action on the field, where things were taking their time to get going. The five changes introduced by Wilmots to the line-up that had won in Croatia and the players’ understandable inclination to take their foot off the gas after their recent energy-sapping efforts combined to create a somewhat sluggish performance.

 

The initial lack of inspiring play had no real effect on the atmosphere, it must be said. The crowd performed a series of waves, and roared when Belgium began to push forward on the pitch. Alderweireld’s shot, deflected off a Welsh back onto the crossbar, allied to Lukaku’s attempts at the end of the first half, had the supporters cheering to the rafters. Wilmots received several long rounds of applause. If the crowd was raucous, so was the half-time entertainment, as Stromae appeared dressed as a Red Devil. Fans on the verge of heading for a drink changed their minds in order to watch the Brussels-based star’s mini-concert that, despite the stadium’s terrible acoustics, was alone worth the journey.

 

All that was lacking was a goal, in the literal sense, of course, to enliven the scoreboard already starting to count down the 240 days between this match and the start of the World Cup at the Estádio do Maracanã. The introduction of playmaker Eden Hazard, who also received a merited rousing reception, took the level of play up a notch, paving the way for his Chelsea team-mate Kevin De Bruyne to open the scoring with an unstoppable shot. Watching from the stands was his club coach, Jose Mourinho, who is likely to have been impressed by the performance of the player who has, along with Witsel and Courtois, been the most consistent performer of the Brazil 2014 campaign. In spite of the late equaliser snatched by the Welsh at the end of the game, the stadium never once stopped encouraging their beloved Devils.

 

STÉPHANE THIRION

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