So Near And Yet So VAR Belgium v Slovakia


Belgium 0:1 Slovakia, Group E, Frankfurt

France 1:0 Austria, Group D, Dusseldorf

Slovakia, ranked 48th in the world, created the biggest shock so far by beating third-ranked Belgium, who left the Frankfurt Arena cursing their luck after two disallowed goals for Romelu Lukaku.

Slovaks celebrate beating Belgium in Frankfurt.
Slovakia beat Belgium 1-0 in a Euros shock

Fair play to the Slovaks for sneaking a goal after six minutes by pouncing on a reckless Belgian pass. Jeremy Doku had a good game in attack and is always a dangerous performer but I cannot remember the last time he has threatened his own goal. His fatal assist converted by Ivan Schranz reminded me of my middle school teacher bellowing "Don't play the ball across the face of your goal!"

The rest of the match was an entertaining hunt by the Belgians for their lost lead, rather like the Pictish warriors chasing the Roman standard in the movie The Eagle, and the Red Devils were unlucky to have two goals annulled by our new friend and foe video technology. The second Lukaku strike chalked off seemed particularly cruel as no Slovak seemed to have noticed Luis Openda had stroked the ball slightly with his hand in the build-up.

Whilst there was contact, any intention was extremely debatable given two players were clashing and the blame must go to the Turkish referee Halil Umut Meler for deciding to stick rigidly to the letter of the law. As far as 99% of us thought, that was a goal.

Belgium, improved since Qatar 2022, were clearly better than Slovakia but as the old adage goes it is only goals that win games.

Still, Slovakia celebrate an unlikely upset and Belgium will recharge their batteries to play Romania on Saturday.

Perhaps finally we can stop talking of Belgium's, or anyone else's 'Golden Generation', a tag first applied to Portugal in the 1990s, rightly so after their consecutive World Youth Cup wins, but subsequently slapped lazily on any nation's good bunch of players.

Kylian Mbappe gave blood for this country tonight.
Kylian Mbappe gave blood for this country tonight

France gave blood fighting the determined Austrians, which sounds like a Napoleonic battle rather than a football match, but both Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann had red dripping off their heads after aerial collisions with the shoulder of Austria's Kevin Danso and an advertising hoarding respectively.

In attack, Les Bleus flowed like an Alpine river. Mbappe, in the news already for issuing a political warning about the upcoming French elections, has the world on his shoulders six years after winning the World Cup. Aged only 25 he is national team captain, and repaid his manager's faith by creating the winner with his well-known explosiveness to beat a full back and fire a cross in. He also shot wide in a 1-on-1 but he showed enough of his usual magic to scare upcoming opponents.

N'Golo Kante was man of the match for France.
N'Golo Kante was man of the match for France

Theo Hernandez and Ousmane Dembele were also impressively mobile but the standout Frenchman was N'Golo Kante, who made a triumphant return to the national team and rolled back the years to his Leicester heyday with an energetic 90 minutes, racing around with an electric motor inside him.

In the end, France never looked like losing but had to suffer a bruising encounter with a dogged and hard-working opponent who were not going down easily. Austria certainly proved they deserve to be at the finals and will give the Dutch and the Poles a hard time too, although they lack technique in the final third.

France, much like England, won narrowly without playing particularly well, the mark of a champion.

Group D has gone to form after one game with the Dutch and French on top.

Away from the games, I must say I have been shocked to hear so many reports of transport chaos in Germany, with England fans stranded in Gelsenkirchen three hours after the end of their match last night for instance.

I recall waiting three hours to get out of Rustenburg at the 2010 World Cup but have only had positive experiences at tournaments in Germany including a sold out 2006 World Cup match at Gelsenkirchen. Standards have obviously slipped since then.

French fan frenzy in Frankfurt.
French fan frenzy in Frankfurt

Euro 2024

Hotels in Germany

Euro 2024 Group A

Euro 2024 Group B

Euro 2024 Group C

Euro 2024 Group D

Euro 2024 Group E

Euro 2024 Group F

Germany v Scotland

First Weekend

Bratwurst & Fußball

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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