When Belgium welcomes Poland to Brussels for a League A Group 4 match on Wednesday, they will be hoping to avoid another devastating UEFA Nations League setback.
In their first match, the Red Devils were defeated 4-1 by the Netherlands, while the visitors just escaped with a 2-1 victory over a much-changed Wales side.
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Following Romelu Lukaku’s injury withdrawal, Belgium lost their status atop the FIFA World Rankings, and they appeared to have given up all hope of getting a positive result against the Netherlands, as Oranje rioted at the King Baudouin Stadium.
Memphis Depay’s brace, along with goals from Steven Bergwijn and Denzel Dumfries, put the Red Devils to the sword on their own field, and Michy Batshuayi’s late consolation in second-half injury time drew hushed applause.
Belgium’s huge setback was a “wake-up call,” according to Roberto Martinez, who is desperately trying to boost his team’s confidence ahead of the World Cup, in which the so-called “golden generation” will hope that their days of under-performing in the greatest competitions are over.
Belgium’s fourth-place finish in their Nations League group isn’t reason for fear at this point, but they still have games in Cardiff and Warsaw before the end of the month, and their record of two wins in their previous seven competitions is concerning.
On a more positive note, Batshuayi’s consolation goal on matchday one means that Belgium has now scored in each of their past 45 games since losing 1-0 to France in the 2018 World Cup semi-finals, and they have no intention of losing a fourth Nations League game in a row here.
Wales and Rob Page may have wrapped all of their key players in cotton wool for their Nations League opener against Poland – which paid off handsomely when they qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 64 years – but Czeslaw Michniewicz’s team was still facing an unexpected defeat.
Jonathan Williams gave the Dragons the lead after 52 minutes, but Karol Swiderski and Jakub Kaminski both came on as substitutes to turn the tie around in the closing stages and kick-start Poland’s World Cup preparations.
The world’s 26th-ranked nation had to work hard to earn a spot in Qatar, but they were ultimately too strong for Sweden in the playoffs, and they currently sit second in the Nations League rankings after a great run of form.
Poland travels to Brussels having won seven of their past ten matches in all competitions, and they, like their opponents, have acquired a taste for scoring goals, having done so in 19 consecutive games since a 2-0 loss to Italy in November 2020.
Given the presence of Robert Lewandowski in the final third, such a statistic is unsurprising, but Michniewicz faces a tough task to extend his unbeaten record to four games, even if his side did win back-to-back matches the previous time they encountered Belgium during Euro 2008 qualification.
The football gods should not give a drab match between two teams whose defining strengths are found in the last third, despite Belgium’s loss of top scorer Lukaku being a devastating blow.
However, against a makeshift Wales XI, Poland would have expected a larger margin of victory, and with Martinez rallying his Belgium side to respond, we have hope in the world’s second-ranked nation to go back on track.