Soccer-De Bruyne leads from front to get Belgium firing again

By Thomson Reuters Jun 22, 2024 | 5:16 PM

By Martyn Herman

COLOGNE, Germany (Reuters) – Belgium’s fearsome forward line needed only 73 seconds to finally come alive at Euro 2024 on Saturday but almost 80 minutes later they were still trying to deliver the knockout blow on Romania.

Then the masterful Kevin De Bruyne took matters into his own hands with his 28th goal for his country to totally change the feel of the night.

A granite-jawed Romania side had absorbed the kind of first-half pummelling that would have seen the towel being lobbed into the ring had it been a boxing match.

Edward Iordanescu’s men were rocking when recalled Youri Tielemans blasted Belgium in front in the second minute but somehow stayed on their feet, repelling raid after Belgium raid as De Bruyne conducted the attacking ensemble.

When Romelu Lukaku fired home from De Bruyne’s stunning pass just past the hour, only for VAR to deny him for the third time in two games, Belgium’s raucous fans must have feared the worst as Romania continued to look dangerous on the counter-attack.

They were spared an agonising climax though as De Bruyne turned poacher supreme — racing on to an old-fashioned hoof forward from keeper Koen Casteels and burying a clinical shot past Florin Nita to seal a precious three points.

The 32-year-old turns football into a fine art, his weight of pass and decision-making nearly always spot-on whether for Manchester City or Belgium.

But on Saturday, with his team’s anxiety growing and Romania looking capable of snatching a point, he also showed a willingness to do the hard graft in a relentless man-of-the-match display.

The sight of him reacting quickest to race on to a long punt to score encapsulated a superb all-round display.

“We have a new team with a lot of young boys. I’m already getting a little older and I want to show with the Devils in my last years how to behave as a player and as a leader,” he said.

Belgium started the game bottom of Group E after their shock 1-0 defeat by Slovakia and the so-called golden generation were in serious changes of exiting the Euros at the group stage, as they did at the 2022 World Cup, had they misfired again.

They ended it joint-top, however, and the feeling is that someone could be in for a horrible hiding from the Red Devils soon – assuming they progress on Wednesday from a group where all three teams have three points.

De Bruyne’s Manchester City team mate Jeremy Doku was a constant twisting an turning menace down the left while on the other side Dodi Lukebakio justified his starting place, although a second yellow card means he will not play against Ukraine.

Tielemans, one of the four changes manager Domenico Tedesco, made was also instrumental as Belgium rediscovering their verve and his finish from Lukaku’s lay-off was emphatic.

Lukaku was desperately unlucky not to add to his 85 goals for Belgium and may well wonder what he has to do to open his account at this tournament.

Belgium still have work to do to make sure they even reach the last-16 but the shackles are off and with dynamic duo De Bruyne and Lukaku firing on all cylinders, they look in the mood to prove the doubters wrong and have a deep run.

(This story has been refiled to fix a typo in paragraph 16)

(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Mitch Phillips)