By Samindra Kunti in Saint Petersburg
June 22 – Even at a walking pace, Belgium were a superior team. Roberto Martinez’s team won group B following a routine 2-0 victory over Finland to confirm their presence in the knockout phase of Euro 2020.
Finland were content to sit deep and Belgium endlessly knocked the ball around. The Belgians wanted Kevin De Bruyne, Axel Witsel, Eden Hazard and Thomas Vermaelen to gain match fitness, but it took Belgium more than 30 minutes to develop any sort of threatening pressure in the final third. Doku whacked a ball to the far post, but Lukáš Hrádeck saved at full stretch.
If the Finns struggled to get out of their own half in the first stanza, they were struggling to get out of their own box at the start of the second. The Belgians pressed and probed without much penetration. Hdrackey produced a splendid save from Hazard, much to the delight from the partisan crowd. At the other end, Teemu Pukki had produced Finland’s first attempt on target.
But it was only ever a question of when Finland were going to break. Lukaku had a goal chalked off for marginal offside in the 67th minute, but ten minutes later a deserved goal did arrive in the shape of a Hradecky own goal. It was unfortunate for the Finnish goalkeeper to concede following a string of excellent saves earlier in the game.
Markku Kanerva’s team tired and Belgium began to toy even more with their opponents. Lukaku got the goal he craved when he pivoted away from his defender in the 81st minute, following an assist from Kevin De Bruyne. The partnership had tortured Finland the entire match.
“We can take many lessons,” said Belgium coach Martinez reflecting on the group stages. “We take one negative: Timothy Castagne will miss the rest tournament. Three wins, three very professional victories. Very different styles and opponents, from playing Russia and Denmark in front of their fans and the Finnish team that could make history with a draw.”
In the other group B match, Denmark defeated Russia 4-1 after another emotional and frantic night in Copenhagen courtesy of goals from Mikkel Damsgaard, Yussuf Poulsen, Andreas Christensen and Joakim Maelhe to finish second in the group and set up a round of 16 match with Wales. Those three points were enough to complete a remarkable journey for the Danish team after their talisman Christian Eriksen collapsed following a cardiac arrest in their opening game against Finland.
Kanerva’s team and the Russians finished on three points as well, with the Finnish maintaining an outside chance of progressing to the last sixteen in third spot. Russia leave the finals bottom of the group.
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