Belgium defeated in tough game against Spain
16 October 2008
BRUSSELS — Despite the best performance by a Belgian team in years, the Red Devils lost in a World Cup qualifying match against Spain by two goals to one in Brussels on Wednesday evening.
David Villa scored in the 88th minute Wednesday to extend Spain’s unbeaten run to 27 matches with a 2-1 win over Belgium. Villa used his speed on the rain-soaked field to head in a cross from Daniel and keep the European champions in first place in Group 5.
In its toughest group match so far, Spain went behind in the seventh minute when Belgium striker Wesley Sonck soared above the defence to head a cross from Vincent Kompany past the wrong-footed Iker Casillas.
The situation got even worse when striker Fernando Torres limped off injured in the 12th. But Andres Iniesta proved Spain’s strength in depth in the 36th, running deep to get to a pass from substitute Cesc Fabregras, weaving past a defender and beating Stijn Stijnen from a near-impossible tight angle.
The draw gave Spain a perfect 12 points from four matches, creating a four-point gap over Turkey, which played to a 0-0 draw in Estonia. Belgium has seven points.
The Belgians felt they deserved better.
"This is so rotten," Sonck said. "After a game like this we have nothing to show for it."
Belgium played with a lineup which harked back to its golden age of the 1980s – overwhelmingly defensive with lone striker Sonck to capitalise on the rare break. He already did so in the seventh and weighed on the defence afterward as most of Belgium’s direct danger came from midfield.
Spain, in comparison, adapts its game to no one with a class lineup where Arsenal star Fabregas is a mere replacement.
To make the contrast even starker, Belgium had to replace its most creative player, Moussa Dembele, minutes before the game because of a thigh strain.
In the first half, Spain made most of the play, with Belgians tirelessly chasing the ball in the misty rain at the King Baudouin stadium. But the early lead, and the cheers from the 45,888 fans gave the young squad all the adrenaline it needed.
And at key moments, goalkeeper Stijn Stijnen also kept Belgium in the game, as when he punched a drive from Villa out just before halftime.
When Spain was supposed to surge in the second half, it was the Red Devils who did instead. Fellaini headed just wide, and thought he had scored in the 64th minute when he weaved around Casillas to put the ball in the net. Referee Tom Henning Ovrebo claimed it was offside, which replays showed it was not.
Belgium finally tired in the waning minutes and Villa, the top scorer at this year’s European Championship, sneaked in between defenders to head the decider home.
Spain team doctor Oscar Celada told Spanish state television that Torres had either suffered a strain or small tear to a muscle in his upper left leg. Torres will be out at least a week Celada added.
The Red Devils brought the world’s top-ranked team close to defeat several times during the second half before falling to the late goal. When it was not Carles Puyol kicking a ball off the line or a strike from Marouane Fellaini ruled out by a controversial offside call, it was Casillas proving his worth.
"They made sure it was one of our toughest matches," Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said.
At the other side, Villa threatened the Belgian defence almost constantly and finally got his reward.
"We came through at the right moment," Del Bosque said.
Belgium: Stijn Stijnen; Anthony Vanden Borre (Guillaume Gillet, 88) , Vincent Kompany, Timmy Simons, Daniel Van Buyten (Filip Daems, 46), Thomas Vermaelen; Marouane Fellaini, Axel Witsel, Steven Defour (Jelle Van Damme, 73), Jan Vertonghen; Wesley Sonck.
Spain: Iker Casillas; Sergio Ramos, Carles Puyol, Juanito Gutierrez, Joan Capdevilla; Santi Cazorla (Xabi Alonso, 64), Xavi Hernandez, Marcos Senna, Andres Iniesta (Daniel Guiza, 85); David Villa, Fernando Torres (Cesc Fabregas, 16).
[AP / Expatica]