Belgium is out of the World Cup after losing to Argentina in the quarter-finals but a lack of experience as well as a lack of ideas played a part in Rode Duivels elimination from the tournament.
Marc Wilmots’ team had won all four of its World Cup matches it had played at Brazil 2014 until facing the Albiceleste.
A solitary goal from Gonzalo Higuain was enough to give Argentina the 1-0 win but the scoreline does not reflect the gap in quality between Argentine coach Alejandro Sabella and Wilmots.
Both Sabella and Wilmots had great players to work with but Wilmots had the younger roster at his disposal. Belgium had the third-youngest team at the World Cup with an average age of 25.5 years.
It was Sabella who played his cards right when the two teams played against each other in Brasilia. Even when Higuain scored after eight minutes, he looked happy to keep that lead.
Argentina could have won by more goals if it really wanted to or if luck went its way. Higuain hit the crossbar in the second half and Lionel Messi was denied a goal at the end after he was one-on-one with Belgian goalkeeper Thibalt Courtois.
Belgium, on the other land, was slow and predictable whenever it had possession and despite trailing throughout the match, the Rode Duivels lacked urgency. There is no doubt that Belgium has some gifted individuals but they could not provide the magic needed to get a result for their team.
This game had probably exposed the shortcomings of Wilmots as a coach. Throughout the tournament, he relied on his substitutes to change the game for his team and against Argentina, it did not work. Argentina was solid at the back and goalkeeper Sergio Romero was not forced into making any breathtaking saves.
There has been criticism of Wilmots’ usage of four natural centre-backs in defence and that there weren’t any natural full-backs used by him. Jan Vertonghen can advance from defence from his natural role at centre-back but he did not do too much as a left-back at this World Cup.
This is where Wilmots should have used the rigid four-man defence to his advantage. The defenders could have stayed back and his forwards could have stayed in the final third and press the opposition defence.
Kevin De Bruyne was a fine performer as an attacking midfielder and Dries Mertens was more suited to a super-sub role instead of being a starter but the Belgian attack lacked great flexibility and movement throughout the tournament.
It’s debatable if anyone else had better wingers to work with than Wilmots. Aside from De Bruyne and Mertens, Wilmots could count on Kevin Mirallas, Eden Hazard, Adnan Januzaj and Nacer Chadli to provide trickery or pace down the wings. For a team with many wingers to work with, the Belgians were too slow and unimaginative.
Wilmots was the assistant coach of Belgium for three years before getting the head coaching role in 2012. Since taking over, he has been credited for uniting the Walloon-speaking players and the Flemish-speaking players in the team.
Wilmots may be good at being a man-manager but he has shown a lack of tactical nous. If he is going to coach Belgium at Euro 2016, he needs to make changes to his squad or tactics.
If he keeps relying on his star players to constantly create chances out of nothing, Wilmots could end up being the coach that prevents this team from being great instead of being the one to properly nurture its talent.