Road to Mexico
Flashback will be a subject coming back from time to time. In flashback I'll look back in time to honour archievements of the Belgian NT, Belgian clubs, Belgian players or even coaches. Today we look back to the great World Cup of 1986 in Mexico.
Belgium was drawn in a qualification group with Poland, Greece and Albania. The first reactions were quite positive, Belgium shouldn't have too much problems taking one of the first 2 spots. As there were 3 groups of 4 teams not all the second placed teams could qualify. All group winners and second placed teams from the groups with 5 teams would qualify, in the groups of 4, the second placed teams would play a play off to qualify for Mexico.
Belgium began their qualifying campaign with a 3-1 win against Albania, while Poland beat Greece with the same numbers. At the second matchday both group games end in a draw. Poland drew 2-2 at home against Albania, while Belgium drew 0-0 in Greece. A first indication, because Belgium wadn't able to win any away game in this group. A draw in Greece and Poland and three straight wins at home were enough to hold off Greece and Albania in this qualification group. Belgium ended with 8 points, just as Poland, so the goal difference would make the decision. Both teams scored 4 more goals then they got against, so the amount of scored goals made the difference. Poland won the group, Belgium needed to play a playoff to get in Mexico ...
Belgium drew the second placed team from group 5. In that group Hungary qualified directly for the World Cup, while the Netherlands needed to beat Belgium to ensure their WC ticket. The second placed team of group 7, Scotland, would face Australia.
The first encounter between Belgium and the Netherlands was played in Anderlecht. It was former Anderlecht player and coach Franky Vercauteren who would become the hero in this game. In the first ten minutes he got Wim Kieft sent off with a direct red card, and still before half time he beat Hans Van Breukelen with a hard shot straight into the bottom corner of the goal. In the second half Belgium tried, but couldn't score another goal. They'll had to defend a 1-0 victory in Rotterdam, where thousands of crazy Dutchies would boo them and cheer for Oranje ...
Belgium - Holland
It was freezing cold in Rotterdam. The evening all Belgian and Dutch people were looking forward to. Beenhakker was convinced his team would beat Belgium and qualify, while Thijs was more sober. He hoped Belgium would get a goal, because he didn't believe the Netherlands would be able to score 3 against his team.
Beenhakker had called up some kind of secret weapon. A tall redhead called John Van Loen. Thijs would gamble in case Van Loen would start and play with Georges Grun as personal marker for Van Loen, but Van Loen started on the bench. The first few chances were for Belgium, but they didn't finish the game quite early. Already before half tim Van Loen started warming up, as did Grun ...
Just before the second half started, Thijs saw something he wasn't meant to see. He saw a Dutch player without his shirt in their dressing room. Thijs knew what that meant: Van Loen would play the second half. Grun started immediately warming up, and with only 60 seconds played in the second half, Grun came in to mark Van Loen. Something he did splendid, because Van Loen hardly touched a ball. But even without Van Loen being really in the game, the Netherlands scored. It was Houtman who headed the ball in at the second post, after a cross from Robbie De Wit. The same De Wit made it even 2-0 for the Netherlands some minutes later. Mexico was far away for Belgium.Untill Beenhakker made a tactical move, and put Gullit as a sweeper. The Netherlands weren't able anymore to attack, and got pressed back to their own goal. Van Breukelen made save after save, 'till Gerets got the ball from Vandereijcken on the right side of the pitch, he crossed and there was Georges Grun ! Grun headed the Dutch dreams away, and it was Belgium who qualified for the World Cup.
Holland - Belgium
Mexico 1986: A splendid tournament
Belgium was drawn in a group with Mexico, Paraguay and Iraq. In order to adapt to the height differences in Mexico, the Belgian NT travelled to Switzerland to train there. Well, train, they made more fun then they trained. Belgium learned from the mistakes in 1970, where they travelled too late to Mexico and couldn't adapt the circumstances there. This time, they moved to Mexico in time and played a friendly against a local team.
In the prepartion to the first game against Mexico there were some troubles with Rene Vandereycken critisizing teammates Enzo Scifo and Franky Vercauteren. "They don't run enough defensively, so I have to do all the work." Guy Thijs wasn't too happy about it and decided to leave Vandereycken on the bench. But as his replacement Lei Clijsters got ill just before the game, Thijs couldn't do anything else then play Vandereycken.
The game itself was bad ... Belgium played with too much fear in the Azteka-stadium. Quirarte and Hugo Sanchez made it 2-0, but Vandenbergh would score later on a goal of hope. Hope for nothing, Belgium lost and Vandenbergh got injured. The game against Mexico would be his last World Cup game.
This meant the second game should be won to keep the hope on the next round high. Iraq was a very physical team, making much faults. Belgium played again a very bad game, but won in the end 2-1. The critisism at Thijs his choices reached a top level, he had to do something ...
What he did was replacing 6 (!) players in the starting line up for the game against Paraguay. Esepecially youngsters like Stephane De Mol got their chance. The game itself wasn't great at all, but the youngsters did a good job. Lack defending of Enzo Scifo made the game end in a 2-2 draw. Enough for the qualification, but that's all.
Where everyone expected Thijs making some changes again to compete the former USSR was surprised seeing the same line up as against Paraguay. Vandereycken got sent home before the game, just like the injured Vandenbergh. It would be the game between the two best goalkeepers of that time: Jean Marie Pfaff and Rinat Dassaev. The big fear of everyone was striker Igor Belanov, one of the best finishers those days. And it was Belanov who shot his country to a 1-0 lead. "A rocket", Jean Marie Pfaff declared after the game. The USSR were leading 1-0 at half time, everyone thought they would qualify, but Thijs couldn't believe it. "I can feel it's our day today," he said. In the second half Enzo Scifo made 1-1, after a great cross from Vercauteren, but only minutes later Belanov stroke again. Pfaff had no chance and the USSR were leading again. Game over for Belgium ? No, after a long ball Ceulemans appeared alone in front of Dassaev, and while turning around his body, he shot the ball perfectly into the bottom corner. This score would be the final one, extra time had to point out the winner. After five minutes in that first period Belgium got a corner kick, where Gerets received the ball. Gerets centered and at the second post youngster Stephane De Mol stood free to head in the 3-2. When in the second period Nico Claesen made it 4-2 Belgium felt they were on their way to the quarter final. Belanov made it 4-3 later on from the penalty spot, and it was Jean Marie Pfaff who kept Belgiums lead in the dying minutes of the extra time. The Russians could go home ...
Belgium - USSR
In the next encounter Belgium would face Spain. Emilio Butragueno was at those days their top striker and had beaten Belgium on his own a few months before the World Cup. This time he wouldn't. After another great Vercauteren cross Ceulemans headed in the 1-0. Spain started to fire the ball in Pfaff's direction, but they lacked that finishing touch, untill five minutes before the final whistle. After a free kick, Señors shot beat Pfaff. An unlucky goal, making Belgium play another 30 minutes of extra time. That extra time ended goalless, so a penalty shoot out whould decide this encounter. Pfaff was known to be a great penalty stopper, but in this case he only stopped one. Spain started the penalty shoot out, so all pressure was lying on the fifth man of Belgium: Leo Van der Elst. At the moment Van der Elst was ready to shoot, Rik De Saedeleer said "You can shoot trough a wall, and I will shoout trough that wall". Van der Elst did. Spain was out, Belgium was trough !
Belgium - Spain
In the semi finals Belgiums opponent called Diego Maradona, euh, Argentina. Before the game Maradona said to Scifo "It's over". He was right. Maradona scored two great goals and Belgium was out. Thanks to an assistent referee ? Maybe. In the first half he made two bad decisions when Belgian players where alone in front of the Argentinian goal. A possible 2-0 lead against Argentina was flagged away. Maradona finished the job in the second half.
Belgium - Argentina
It was a great tournament, and every single player was too tired and lacked motivation for the third place match. Belgium lost 4-2 against France and could travel back to Belgium, where a huge mass of fans were waiting for them at the airport and the Grote Markt in Brussels. The Belgian NT did something great, which will propably never be archieved again. On the plane back home the Belgian NT could hear Argentina beating West-Germany in the final. They lost against the later World Champions,which was quite a satisfaction for the players ...
Gerets - Renquin - Grun - Vervoort
Ceulemans - Demol - Scifo - Vercauteren
Veyt - Claesen
Other members of the selection:
L. Van der Elst
F. Van der Elst