Slovakia 1-0 Belgium (Jun 17, 2024) Game Analysis

Ivan Schranz scored Slovakia‘s quickest goal at a major tournament to take his side to a gritty upset 1-0 victory over wasteful Belgium in European Championship Group E on Monday.

It was Belgium’s first loss in 16 games under coach Domenico Tedesco and a flashback to their disastrous 2022 World Cup campaign, although they did have two goals ruled out by VAR.

Both were from the boot of Romelu Lukaku, the first for offside and the second a handball in the buildup on a hugely frustrating day for the Roma striker in which he also missed several clear-cut chances.

After the match in Frankfurt, Germany, Tedesco said that the missed chances were a shame but that there was no need to panic for his Belgian side.

“I knew one day we would lose a game; unfortunately it’s today,” Tedesco said. “Today there’s not much I can say to the team to be better. We created many chances, big chances. If you score the first goal, it’s more than possible. Then the game is easier. We knew they’d come; we knew they’d press. We saw this team have a lot of possession against Portugal.

“We pressed high, we won good balls, the only thing which wasn’t perfect was the missed chances. We had many, and big ones.”

Slovakia joined Romania at the top of the standings after the latter’s 3-0 win over Ukraine in Munich earlier on Monday. Belgium next meet Romania in Cologne on Saturday.

There had been talk before the game of this being a new Belgium, casting off the Golden Generation tag and filled with young talent, but the same problems persist.

Belgium players leave the pitch after a shocking loss to Slovakia at the European Championship.
Belgium players leave the pitch after a shocking loss to Slovakia at the European Championship.

Tedesco’s side dominated the 90 minutes but lacked a clinical touch, and when they did find it they were denied by the VAR and the scrambling Slovakia defence.

“[Lukaku has] been playing for Belgium for a long time and knows very well how to score goals,” Tedesco said. “He showed that time and time again. Tonight he did score, but it was disallowed. If he needs something, I’m here for him, but he’s a top player and doesn’t need anything on that score. What we saw in the dressing room and the mood on the pitch is that everyone is disappointed, but we can make use of this defeat.”

Belgium were without their preferred central defensive pairing of Jan Vertonghen and Arthur Theate, and with left-winger Jérémy Doku playing on the right in the first half and Yannick Carrasco as a left-wing back, there was a lack of balance to the team.

It was that uncertainty that led to Slovakia’s opener as Doku’s poor ball into his own box was not dealt with by the defence and when Juraj Kucka‘s effort was saved, the ball fell to Schranz, who beat Belgium goalkeeper Koen Casteels from a tight angle with a goal timed at six minutes and five seconds.

Belgium will feel they should have been 1-0 up by then as Lukaku was foiled from point-blank range by Slovakia goalkeeper Martin Dúbravka after Doku’s mesmerising run from his own half.

That was the first of three big chances in the half for Lukaku, who had scored 17 goals in 11 games under Tedesco. Lukaku’s second goal to be disallowed came late in the second half, with VAR adjudging that substitute Loïs Openda played the ball with his hand before crossing the ball into his teammate.

“It’s tough to speak. If we’d have won, I could have told you more of my opinion,” Tedesco said. “Now we lost, I want to be a good, fair loser. We trust those guys, we trust the referees, the VAR. If they decide it’s handball, then we have to accept it.”

Slovakia had opportunities too. Casteels had to make a superb diving save from Lukás Haraslín‘s excellent volley, and they showed excellent defensive discipline as every tackle was celebrated by the Slovak players as if they had scored a goal.

Belgium came close again when a goalmouth scramble ended with substitute Johan Bakayoko shooting for what seemed a certain goal, only for Slovakia defender Dávid Hancko to clear the ball off the line.

“The lesser teams, if you will … the smaller nations, have made progress,” said Slovakia coach Francesco Calzona. “And we can cause problems for the more prestigious nations. But there is still a big gap.

“We have to work very hard. It’s by no means easy because a country like Belgium produces so many footballers. But it’s also true that the smaller nations are also developing and I realised that in the qualification group the smaller nations are very well organised, and it’s true, they have made progress.”