THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Jan Vertonghen injured and Thomas Vermaelen suspended for quarter-final

1 July ~ “His Euro is over, that’s fate for you,” Marc Wilmots told the press on Thursday night, reporting on Jan Vertonghen’s injury. Belgian media had speculated all afternoon about Vertonghen’s ankle, badly sprained in training earlier in the day, causing ligament damage.

Not only is this bad timing for Vertonghen – it took place one minute from the end of training, says Wilmots – it also deprives Belgium of a second defensive stalwart, Thomas Vermaelen being suspended for this quarter-final against Wales.

Ironically, the setback spares Wilmots the dilemma of whether to play Jordan Lukaku or Jason Denayer instead of Vermaelen; he does, however, have another difficult choice to make. Lukaku will take Vertonghen’s place at left-back, Wilmots confirmed.

This means that Vermaelen’s spot will be filled by either “Laurent Ciman’s experience or Jason Denayer’s youthfulness,” the coach says. Ciman had a decent opening game against Italy; Wilmots now has to gauge what defensive partnership would be most effective against Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey.

In comparison, Wilmots’s question marks regarding his attacking options appear almost trivial. Eden Hazard, having stolen the show against Hungary with an electric display, has shaken off an injury niggle. Several Belgian pundits have been pushing the inevitable Hazard v Bale sub-plot, rather unjustly so given the hard-working nature of both teams.

The freshly reinvigorated Hazard did, bizarrely, find himself unwittingly at the centre of an internet buzz this week when a song by a Brussels punk band singing his praises went viral in several European countries. Do not rule out hearing it being sung at the ground where he played for seven years.

Another midfield conundrum is whether to play Dries Mertens or Yannick Carrasco in the starting XI. Both players offer similar qualities but, even though the latter scored against Hungary, Mertens probably edges it at the moment, offering more penetration than the Atlético man.

Up front, Michy Batshuayi made a strong enough case for himself on Sunday, beating Gabor Kiraly with his first touch. But the the Chelsea-bound forward is probably still a bit raw at this level, as his idiotic booking against Hungary testifies. Who kicks the ball away in frustration when they are 3-0 up?

Besides, Hazard’s ball was truly sublime; you somehow had to feel for Romelu Lukaku, who didn’t receive such an inviting cross all night then, like a Vegas gambler having just vacated his favourite slot machine, had to watch someone else reap the rewards. Nevertheless, he should start against Wales and, who knows, his younger brother may even set him up, as was the case in a friendly against Portugal in March this year. Stranger things have happened at this tournament. PM Doutreligne

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