Poor Devils!

On target but not counted: Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku scored a disallowed goal during the Group E match against Slovakia. — AP

COLOGNE: Belgium are in danger of an embarrassing early exit from Euro 2024 as the serial underachievers face a crunch clash with Romania today.

After a shock 1-0 loss to Slovakia in their Group E opener, Domenico Tedesco’s side will be pushed to the brink of elimination if they suffer a second successive defeat this weekend in Cologne.

Belgium will be unable to finish in the top two if they lose to Romania and Ukraine do not beat Slovakia, with their hopes of going through as one of the four best third-placed teams also extremely slim.

Slovakia’s unexpected victory blew Group E wide open, just hours after Romania beat Ukraine 3-0 in the other match in that pool.

Romelu Lukaku missed a host of chances for Belgium and had a late equaliser controversially disallowed by Video Assisted Referee (VAR) as Slovakia made light of the 45-place gap between the teams in FIFA’s world rankings to cause a major upset.

It was a bitter loss for Belgium, who have so often failed to fulfil their potential at a major tournament.

Belgium’s golden generation has lost much of its lustre since they crashed out of the 2022 World Cup in the group stage.

The Red Devils fell at the quarter-finals in the last two editions of the European Championship, making a third place finish at the 2018 World Cup the highwater mark of a talented but underachieving team once hailed as a potential dynasty.

Tedesco was appointed to replace Roberto Martinez in February 2023 and led Belgium on a 14-match unbeaten run heading into the Euros, but the first loss of his reign has triggered a bout of soul-searching among his shell-shocked players.

Before what was billed as a last hurrah for Belgium’s veteran stars, Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne had insisted they were ready to do “something good” in Germany.

Instead they reverted to type with a spluttering display that puts them under intense pressure to beat Romania.

“It’s a shame. We played well for the first 20 minutes and then we made a mistake that was punished. Then it took us a while to get back into the game,” De Bruyne said.

“In the second half we improved. We would have deserved to win, we arrived, there were two goals disallowed, but we couldn’t score and that’s football.”

With the influential De Bruyne now 32, Belgium’s veteran defender Jan Vertonghen, 37, knows this tournament represents their last realistic chance of winning an international trophy.

For Belgium to get back on track, Tedesco’s team need Lukaku, 31, to rediscover the predatory finishing that has brought him 85 goals in 116 appearances for Belgium.

“I have a lot of confidence in Romelu, there is not one guy in this team I have more confidence in. Romelu loves these moments, that the pressure is on him, the focus is on him,” Vertonghen said.— AFP

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