Tuesday, November 21, 2006

België/Belgique-Polska (15-11-2006)

Hardly back from South Africa, I was on my way to a game back ‘home’. After some 40 minutes by train to Brussels and a 20 minute metro ride in Brussels, I reached the King Boudain Stadium – built at the site of the infamous Heysel Stadium. On the way to the stadium I had already noticed the huge groups of Polish fans, clearly outnumbering the Belgian fans in the metro. Also around the stadium the Poles seemed in the majority.

A good hour before the start of the game I met my friends, the Belgian E., the Polish W., and my Japanese fellow-groundhopper A.H. As everything around the stadium was closed (off), we had no other choice than sample the food and drinks in the stadium. After the obligatory beer and fries we took our seats at Tribune 3 (at 25 euro a ticket). The stadium was very well filled, for Belgian standards, largely thanks to the Poles, who accounted for some 40% of the spectators. The Polish red-white was a lot more visible than the Belgian red-yellow-black.

There is something surreal about going to a game of the Belgian national team. There is a group of supporters that will chant “België” (the Dutch speakers), a group that will support “Belgique” (the French speakers), who will find each other by cheering for “Belgium”.

Both the Belgians and the Poles are teams that have their heydays well behind them. The start of the campaign for Euro 2008 was bad in both cases, but they have recovered somewhat. A fairly even clash was expected, and that was also what we got. However, we also got a struggle between two extremely poor teams.

The game started and ended with a long list of poor passes, terrible control, and hilarious mistakes at all levels (technical, tactical, etc.). In this respect, both teams were equal. However, if one of the two could claim some superiority, it was the Poles who had at least some half-decent players (e.g. Smolarek). Halfway the first half one of the relatively small strikers of Poland went into a duel with the tall and (allegedly) strong Belgian central defender Daniel Van Buyten, one of the most revered defenders in the German Bundesliga (!), gave him a slight push, and scored. 1-0 for Poland. After this the game deteriorated even further, and 1-0 was also the half time score.

The second half showed much of the same, which brought the best out of the Belgian crowd. Increasingly the Belgian fans started to either whistle or applaud the mistakes of the home team. We also had to laugh repeatedly in the face of so much incompetence. The highlight was a collision between two Belgian strikers, including the extremely poor Emile Mpensa (who played the whole game, despite being a regular player in the football league of…, don’t laugh, Quatar!), in the penalty box. This way these players screwed up the one possible goal chance of the Belgians. After 90 minutes the score was still 1-0, and quite honestly, we could have played for two more days but I seriously doubt anyone could have scored another goal.

Amused and shocked we made our way back to the metro. The Belgian took it as Belgians do, lightly, while the Pole seemed more upset by the terrible level of play. It will take (again) some time before I will go and see another game of the Belgian national team

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