The Euro 2012 campaign finally comes down to this – a daunting trip to Düsseldorf to face the undefeated group leaders Germany, probably needing to beat them to pip Turkey to the coveted playoff spot. Easy.
Thinking their Euro 2012 hopes had been all but dashed by the slip-up in Baku, Belgium suddenly find themselves 2nd in Group A with 90 minutes to play, one point ahead of Turkey. The slight issue is that they have to equal their rivals result at home to Azerbaijan. Here’s a quick preview of both team’s preparations.
Leekens’ injury woes
After Friday’s fixtures, Belgium managed to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, comfortably dispatching bottom placed Kazakhstan at home 4-1. It was an impressive performance as Leekens’ pre-game plan of dominance paid off, with the midfield trio of Eden Hazard, Axel Witsel and Dries Mertens linking up well against much weaker opposition, combining to set up Hazard first national team goal in style.
The victory wasn’t without a cost however – the suspension of experienced centre-back Daniel Van Buyten could prove costly (depending on your opinion of Bayern’s elder statesmen). Add to that the loss of striker Igor De Camargo in training yesterday with suspected ligament damage, and the possibly unfit Hazard and the task seems that much greater for the Rode Duivels.
Coach Georges Leekens could be using some diversionary tactics suggesting that one of his key players could be unable to play in the big game and then miraculously make the starting line-up. It’s best not to rule that one out, given the fact that he did train on Monday.
He did seem disappointed at losing the Monchengladbach forward though saying ”Igor played well on Friday against Kazakhstan and we have to change our attacking firepower two days before the match,”
The coach did reveal eight players who were certain to start (Mignolet, Ciman, Kompany, Lombaerts, Vertonghen, Simons, Fellaini, Witsel). The base of the side is as expected, with Ajax’s Vertonghen or Zenit’s Lombaerts being able to operate as either Kompany’s partner or at the problem left-back position. A big boost in terms of team stability is the return of Everton’s Marouane Fellaini to the midfield, often the intermediary between defence and attack. Speaking of which, Leekens is keeping everyone guessing over his attacking options in the 4-2-3-1. He has the choice of Mertens (who was on the receiving end of a horror tackle from Nurtas Kurgulin), Hazard or Moussa Dembele supplying probably Marvin Ogunjimi. Nothing that Leekens does surprises me, so expect the unexpected.
The opponents – Germany
Belgium can have Joachim Loew’s side to thank for giving them this final shot at qualification, beating the Turks in their own backyard 3-1 to keep their 100% record in Group A intact. What was more impressive about this victory was that their talisman Mesut Ozil missed the game, with highly rated Mario Götze slotting into the team like nothing had happened. Such is Germany’s strength in-depth and probably makes them one of the favourites for Euro 2012 itself.
Loew’s had his problems with injuries during the international break too. Dortmund dynamos Sven Bender and Marcel Schmelzer are out, whilst the internationally prolific Miroslav Klose, who put Belgium to the sword in the last fixture between the two, is also injured. Jerome Boateng and Bastian Schweingstiger are doubtful and may not be risked.
Not to say that Die Mannschaft won’t be formidable – there’s still no chance of Germany letting Belgium getting the result they desperately need to qualify so easily. There’s of course several Bayern Munich players amongst the squad, clearly on cloud nine given their start to the season. Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has only conceded one goal in eight games since his move to the Bundesliga giant, and he’s guarded by much of that defence normally for Germany. Several prodigies are coming of age at exactly the right time and some other younger players are considered regulars – Thomas Muller for example.
Joachim Loew told the media at a press conference that having a first XI is no longer an option for his national team, preferring to have several players capable of filling in at key moments. He said “In Germany we must finally say ‘goodbye’ to the idea of 11 regular players. One can see very clearly in European football that it takes more than 11 players to compensate for injuries. As a coach, of course I favour competition. Regular places are history,” He also warned his team to be on guard for Belgium attacks – expecting them to go all for broke to get the right result.
Bastian Schweinstiger has also recognised that the final group game will be tough. ”Belgium has really grown. It disappoints me only that they are not assured the second place, because I rate them more than Turkey.” He also said how tough the Brussels game was for Germany adding it was ‘key to our good European Championship campaign.’
Tagged Andre Schürrle, Axel Witsel, Bastian Schweinstiger, Belgium, Dries Mertens, Eden Hazard, Euro 2012, georges leekens, Germany, Guus Hiddink, Holger Badstuber, Igor De Camargo, jan Vertonghen, Jerome Boateng, Laurent Ciman, Manuel Neuer, Mario Gomez, Marouane Fellaini, Marvin Ogunjimi, Mesut Ozul, Nicolas Lombaerts, per mertesacker, philipp lahm, Romelu Lukaku, Sami Khedira, Simon Mignolet, Thomas Muller, Timmy Simons, Turkey, Vincent Kompany