The men of Belgium fielded 2 teams for the second Benelux tournament of the European season, and hopes were high that a resurgent Belgium A would improve on the disappointing performance in Amsterdam, where an under-strength side finished bottom of the pile.
Six teams were divided into two groups:
Group 1: Amsterdam, Belgium B, The Hague A.
Group 2: Belgium A, Luxembourg, The Hague B.
Belgium A 0-7, Luxembourg 0-7
The Belgium first team was, arguably, lucky to draw this battle after a poor game in which the defending European champions performed terribly. Belgium A’s game was characterised by over-carrying, poor passing and inadequate finishing. While some key players underpeformed, others did just about enough to salvage a point and ensure the team remained in the running for a semi-final spot. Special mention to debutant Eoghan Kelly who kicked some great scores, especially the pressure kick right at the end to guarantee the draw.
Belgium A 10-11, The Hague B 1-1
This one-sided match was over as a contest within the first 3 minutes. The rampant Belgium forwards had a field day, picking off points and goals at will. A margin of victory of at least 13 points was needed to top the group above Luxembourg, and Belgium finished the job in ruthless fashion. While the margin of defeat is a fair reflection of the difference between the two sides, it is to The Hague’s credit that they could muster enough numbers to field a second team.
Having topped the group, Belgium A now faced Amsterdam in the semi-finals.
Belgium A 0-6 , Amsterdam 1-4
One that got away. Amsterdam, who, having been 6 point behind and regrouped to beat Belgium A in the 3/4 place play-off in their home tournament in April, are arguably the rising force in the Benelux region.
This was a tightly-fought, intensely physical game that went right down to the wire. However, as in the April encounter between the 2 sides, Belgium allowed a soft goal to prove their undoing. Despite a valiant fight-back, including a gallop towards goal that was ended with a stray knee which may have broken Eoin Sheanon’s nose (again), Belgium were beaten when a last-gasp effort that would have pushed the tie into extra-time sailed just wide of the uprights.
Amsterdam went on to the final where they were beaten by home team The Hague A. Their second consecutive victory over An Chraobh Rua this season left the men of Belgium with their tails between their legs and plenty of food for thought.
3/4 place play-off:
Belgium A 2-8 , Luxembourg 1-4
In this game, Belgium finally began to play like something resembling their former selves. An angry, aggressive back-line led from the front by Phil “The Crusher” Cushen gave the forwards a solid platform to go in search of scores. Eoghan Kelly, playing in his first tournament, again hit some lovely scores while Micheál O’Floinn excelled. Lux fought valiantly but were undone when Belgium’s talisman Emmet Devine rifled an unstoppable shot into the top corner to end the contest early in the second half.
Having dismissed their Amsterdam disaster to early season jitters and a lack of manpower, the men of Belgium had a rude awakening in The Hague. With virtually their entire starting team in position, the A’s failed to achieve anything close to their barnstorming form of late 2008. The Chraobh Rua boys will need to ask themselves hard questions if they are to rediscover the aggression, physicality, fluidity and good old-fashioned hunger that saw them crowned Euro Champions in 2008.