On Saturday, Gonzalo Higuaín struck early for Argentina. Belgium were left chasing the game, but were reduced to sending in the majority of their shots from distance, stymied by a rejigged Argentina defense. Despite a flurry of shots from the Belgium players to close out the game, Higuaín’s goal proved sufficient, and Argentina advanced with a 1-o victory.
While many were impressed by Argentina’s improved defense, and encouraged by the fact that, for once, they did not seem overly reliant on Lionel Messi, one man remained jaded. That man is Belgium coach Marc Wilmots, who spoke out after the game:
We were not impressed by Argentina, absolutely not. I think that Messi is the star striker, star player, he never loses the ball. But I noticed a couple of fouls and the referee is never against him. I am noticing every time there is a little foul it is always in favor of Argentina.
If we could have equalized in the last few seconds, Argentina is dead. They are finished.
Now, I’m not sure if by “They are finished,” Wilmots is still referencing Saturday’s game, or if he is implying that Argentina will fail to progress to the final. Wilmots does have a point – Argentina would have had to change their entire gameplan had Belgium forced them into extra time. They may not have advanced to the semi-final in that case.
Yet mostly, this feels like the last gasping breaths of a dying man. Most were not impressed by Wilmots’ approach to the World Cup matches. Against Argentina, he chose to save the likes of Dries Mertens and Romelu Lukaku until the end of the match, perhaps believing the side would have needed fresh legs by that point. The strategy failed, as did replacing the unimpressive Eden Hazard with Nacer Chadli.
On the whole, Belgium – a team from whom so many expected so much – failed to deliver. It was the likes of Mertens and young Divock Origi that impressed, while Wilmots never managed to get the best from Hazard or Lukaku. Belgium’s inability to go further in the tournament was primarily down to coaching rather than talent, and Wilmots likely knows his number is up.
And no amount of lashing out at his opponents will change that fact.