World Cup – Group G, June 23 2018
Hazard (6 pen, 51)
Lukaku (16, 45+3)
Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku were each at the double as Belgium’s attack proved too hot to handle for Tunisia in Group G of the 2018 World Cup. Roberto Martinez’s side were ahead in six minutes, when Hazard coolly dispatched his penalty after being brought down just inside the box. Lukaku soon doubled their lead, and while Tunisia did hit back, a second from the Manchester United striker moments before half-time ultimately ended the contest. Hazard added another early in the second half, with substitute Michy Batshuayi, having missed a handful of golden chances, finally adding his name to the scoresheet with a late fifth before Wahbi Khazri grabbed a late consolation. With England thrashing Panama 6-1 later that day, the Red Devils and the Three Lions have confirmed their place in the knockout stages – it’s now a case of determining who tops the group, as the pair prepare to meet on Thursday.
23 / 12
SHOTS / ON TARGET
14 / 5
Passes / Accurate
11 / 0 / 0
Fouls / Yellow / Red
14 / 1 / 0
Belgium continued with a defensive back three and wing-back combination, as they searched for a second consecutive Group G victory. Both wing-backs, Thomas Meunier and Yannick Carrasco, moved extremely high in the opening minutes – at times, they were in the same horizontal line as centre forward Romelu Lukaku.
This high positioning pinned the Tunisia full-backs, as central midfielders Kevin De Bruyne and Axel Witsel were man-marked accordingly. Attacking creators Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens dropped short to receive the ball at feet, with Lukaku making runs in behind.
Hazard and Mertens moved towards the ballside, looking to overload the areas around the inside channel. With Belgium’s wing-backs occupying the full-backs, Hazard and Mertens were free to receive in dangerous positions on the edge of the Tunisian penalty area. They took advantage of this when Hazard was brought down inside the box in the first five minutes. The Chelsea forward stepped up and buried his penalty low into the corner.
Belgium’s wing-backs continued to move high, particularly on the ballside. This consistently drew out their opponents’ full-backs, and they duly doubled their lead. Mertens pounced on a loose ball before setting Lukaku en route to goal. The powerful striker made no mistake, scoring his side’s second of the game with a well-timed low strike.
Despite Tunisia immediately grabbing a goal back with the next attack, defensively Belgium looked solid in the first half hour. Eventually, Tunisia changed their defensive approach as both full-backs no longer aggressively pressed Belgium’s wing-backs. This reduced the space for Hazard and Mertens, who reverted back to occupying one side each.
With the Tunisian back line narrowing, Carrasco and Meunier became the main outlet. Lukaku began to drop deeper as Hazard and Mertens’ wider positioning stretched the Tunisian central midfield block. Lukaku set balls back into the forward-facing pair, who subsequently drove at the Tunisian defence.
After a spell of Tunisia possession, Belgium were happy to sit off in a mid-block, ready to pounce on individual errors. Meunier did exactly that, as he recovered the ball and slid in Lukaku in similar fashion to their previous goal. Lukaku’s dink over the onrushing goalkeeper gave Belgium a 3-1 lead seconds before half-time.
Martinez’s men sat off in the second half, protecting their lead. Tunisia’s back line displayed urgency in pushing up, as they started the second half on the front foot. Belgium’s quality was decisive, though, and it wasn’t long before Hazard wrapped up the points. The 27-year-old dinked the ball past the goalkeeper, who had again rushed out of his goal, before tapping into an empty net.
From here, Belgium were more than happy to sit off in a compact mid-block. They became much more direct in possession in the last 30 minutes, not risking getting caught out with an expansive structure on the ball.
Marouane Fellaini and Michy Batshuayi were introduced and complemented this new approach. Batshuayi in particular had ample chances to add his name to the scoresheet before eventually converting arguably his most difficult chance. Tunisia did grab a final consolation, but the game had been long since over.
Tunisia’s early exploits in possession were limited, as the Belgian attack caused multiple problems between their defensive lines. Their main outlet was the movement of central striker Wahbi Khazri. His runs, however, were towards the channels rather than behind the Belgium back line – and their three central defenders soon dealt with his movement.
Tunisia often found an extremely congested central lane, as Belgium also prioritised a central build. As soon as they regained possession, it was too crowded for an immediate progress. Coupled with aggressive pressing immediately after a loss of Belgian possession, their first passes were backwards and ineffective. After giving away a penalty and losing out on a loose ball, they soon found themselves two down within the first 15 minutes.
They sprung into action after a surprising quickfire equaliser brought them back into the game. A routine inswinging free-kick was met by the head of right-back Dylan Bronn, who flicked the ball past the desperate dive of Thibaut Courtois. Despite this initial comeback and some momentum in possession, two injury blows saw Tunisia lose half of their back line before half-time – and they were noticeably shaken.
As Belgium gradually dropped off, Tunisia naturally gained more possession and time on the ball. Their most effective attacking pattern involved their wingers dropping short along the touchlines. By delaying possession, both wingers enabled full-backs Ali Maaloul and substitute Hamdi Nagguez to overlap, creating two-on-one scenarios against their opponents’ wing-backs.
Belgium’s central defence didn’t want to be dragged out towards the touchline, so one of De Bruyne or Witsel stepped out to re-establish the numerical equality. This then created more space for cutback crosses, and increased the likelihood of Tunisia regaining central second balls. This repeated pattern ensured Belgium couldn’t break out of their half and Tunisia could maintain the pressure, as they swept up the majority of regains in central midfield.
They started the second half on the front foot, as they pushed numbers forward. This was a brave yet correct decision from head coach Nabil Maaloul, as they needed to reassert themselves after conceding a morale-killing third goal seconds before the interval. But by throwing players forward, this naturally left defensive gaps – and Tunisia were again punished by lethal finishing.
As the second half wore on, their attacking width dissipated and the game went through a spell of unco-ordinated and needless transitions. Both teams consistently lost possession, then won it back before giving it away again. This lasted for a full 15 minutes, as neither side demonstrated real quality or guile in possession.
Tunisia eventually regained attacking width and fired crosses into the penalty area. Belgium’s experienced back line comfortably dealt with these balls, however, and remained solid throughout. The final piece of action saw Tunisia’s most free-flowing move of the game. Slick passing created a consolation goal late in injury time, as Khazri struck home from a cutback cross. In the end, Tunisia didn’t quite have enough going forward and were punished by far superior finishing.
Author: Tony Hodson