Arsenal and Tottenham are not two teams known for their defensive solidity over the years. Yet three center backs who came to prominence at those two clubs just shut down Cristiano Ronaldo, Diogo Jota, Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes, João Félix and Portugal.
Not so Spursy after all.
Belgium blanked Portugal 1-0 in the Euro 2020 Round of 16 on Sunday in Seville, with center backs Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Thomas Vermaelen — plus keeper Thibaut Courtois, who also once played in London with Chelsea — stifling some of the most potent attacking players in the world.
Vertonghen and Alderweireld teamed up at Tottenham for five years before the former moved on to Benfica last year. Vermaelen played for five years at Arsenal, earning the captain’s armband before moving to Barcelona (he currently plays for Vissel Kobe in Japan).
Belgium, more typically known for its attacking flair in recent years with the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens and Yannick Carrasco, showed it can play the defensive game in a heated match. Portugal racked up 23 shots, but just four were on target and only a couple troubled Courtois as the three center backs largely flustered Portugal’s vaunted attackers.
The physical nature of the match at times threatened to dissolve into madness. In many ways, it was reminiscent of Portugal’s epic 1-0 win over the Netherlands at the 2006 World Cup, in which a record four red cards and 16 yellow cards were handed out. This match, officiated by the experienced German Felix Brych, somehow finished with 22 men on the pitch, as the referee managed to just about keep the game under control with only five yellow cards issued.
Belgium vs Portugal Highlights Euro 2020
The first chance of the game belonged to Cristiano Ronaldo, who blistered a free kick Courtois did well to parry.
Ronaldo had another opportunity on a free kick in the 73rd minute, one that was set up quite similar to the stunner he scored against Spain at the 2018 World Cup. However, the Juventus star’s effort was blocked by a Belgian defender before it could trouble Courtois.
Ronaldo finished the match with four shots (one on target) but couldn’t break the tie with Ali Daei of Iran for most international goals in men’s soccer history after he equaled Daei’s 109 in the final group-stage match against France.
Belgium took the lead in the first half through Thorgan Hazard’s scoring strike in the 42nd minute, which came moments after Courtois sent Ronaldo flying with some nice foot skills for a keeper.
The goal put Belgium in the unusual position of playing more defense than offense in the second half. The back line creaked as wingbacks Thomas Meunier and Thorgan Hazard struggled to get back defensively, but ultimate the defense held firm.
Rúben Dias had his header saved moments before Raphaël Guerreiro hit the post on the volley, but Portugal couldn’t beat Courtois.
The Belgians now march on to face Italy in a quarterfinal on July 2 in Munich. The Azzurri edged Austria 2-1 in extra time on Saturday after looking capable of winning the whole thing in the group stage.
The biggest downside to the match for Belgium will be the potential loss of two of the best offensive players in the world. Kevin de Bruyne and then Eden Hazard left the match injured, which has to worry coach Roberto Martínez heading into the quarterfinals against the stout defense of Italy.