Belgium took part in five final stages of the Euro… with various successes: a bronze medal in private in 1972, a near-achievement in 1980, disappointments in 1984 and 2000 and the Lille debacle in 2016. 5 tournaments embellished behind the scenes with some crisp anecdotes. Let’s go. First episode.
1972: no ads on TV … and Jean Thissen’s loss
Belgium is hosting the final Euro tournament in a 4-team format: ” A real elite tournament, while with the current extended finals, even Taxis Verts and Taxis Orange have their chance … “will say later Raymond Goethals. In the semi-final in Antwerp, the Devils (who became White again at the request of their coach Raimundo… who felt that they were better able to find their way under artificial lighting!) are dominated by the great Germany, third in the last world and future laureate of his World Championship 1974.
In the morning gazettes, Jean Thissen is confident when asked about his direct opponent: ” Gerd Müller ? I’ll take care of it, he won’t touch a single leather of the match… “Bad luck for the great Jeannot: in the evening, the Bombardier plant two crates at Christian Piot, author of one of his (very rare) bad matches in the National Team, and places the team and final.
Ads ? No way
Thissen saw nothing… and neither did the Flemish viewers. Noting that the lawn of tawny owl is completely surrounded by UEFA advertising boards, the Sports Director of the BRT at the time (the current VRT) refuses… to broadcast the match: no question of advertising on the public service! In the current era of football, this decision appears surreal today …
Reduced to playing the small final in Sclessin almost in private, Belgium sinks its bronze against Hungary. The opportunity for Paul Van Himst to score the goal which he himself qualifies as ” easiest goal of my career “: a disagreement between an opposing defender and his goalkeeper leaves Polle Gazon all alone on a back pass in the alley.
Thank you, carabinieri
To reach the finals, the Devils had created a sensation by eliminating Italy, finalist of the Mexican World Cup against Brazil (in what remains today recognized as the ” match of the century “). In the first leg at San Siro, the Belgians snatch the 0-0 thanks to the cunning of Goethals: sent back to the locker room by the referee, Raimundo bribe them carabinieri … which allow him to see the end of the match from a discreet window. But no network Whatsapp at the time to communicate with his bench …
On the return to Parc Astrid, the Devils won 2-1 but lost Wilfried Van Moer, author of the first goal … then evacuated in a stretcher, leg shattered by the unspeakable Mario Bertini, an obscure midfielder of Inter Milan passed down to Belgian posterity like an authentic butcher. Van Moer will be deprived of Euro and will never regain his previous level.
1980: Guy Thys was fed up with Hrubesch’s headache
Unknown to the youngest, the 1980 Italian campaign was undoubtedly the most beautiful epic in Belgian football. The Devils (now Red) are the little thumbs of the tournament and have been placed in an impossible pool, with England, Spain and the host country – nothing but big names in world leather. Everything started very badly: arrived in Turin, for their first match against the English, the Belgian players learned of the emoluments of their rivals and are on the verge of a strike.
” I was staying in the same hotel as Les Diables … which seems inconceivable today, at a time of entrenched camps and compartmentalization with the press “tell Christian Hubert, journalist at The Last Hour-Sports. ” And on the morning of the match, at breakfast, I see the white players coming down like linens, with unearthed heads. The coach Guy Thys comes to find me, furious: ‘I’m disgusted, they negotiated all night for their bonuses, I just want to go back to Belgium!‘The Players Council, including the captain Julien Cools, Maurice Martens, Wilfried Van Moer, Eric Gerets, René Vandereycken, Théo Custers and Francois Vander Elst, had obtained to touch 40,000 francs the point (NDLA: current 992 euros), instead of 30,000 (744 euros) initially planned. Then it all happened, and alone Horst Hrubesch stopped us … “
Zero supporter …
A campaign carried out… without the slightest Belgian supporter, so nobody expected us at such a party: the Federation chartered only one charter, in disaster, on the day of the final… An apotheosis spoiled by a whim from the colossus Hrubesch … Who, four years later, would join the post-Waterschei Standard.
In previous months, there was nothing to suggest this Italian adventure either: the Devils had qualified with difficulty after a sluggish start to the campaign. Here again, it all came down to an improbable meeting.
” When I came back from a bad Devils match in the qualifying phase, I sat on the plane next to Guy Thys “resumes Christian Hubert.” Guy no longer knows which way to turn: he can’t find a solution and asks me for my opinion. The breeders at the time, and Raymond Goethals also before Thys, used to consult influential journalists. I therefore suggest that he call back Van Moer, who was already 34 years old but who was going up in flames… in Beringen. Don’t smile, Beringen was a good team back then! Wilfried revived the squad against Portugal and Scotland… and in Italy he played all four matches. Van Moer took us to the Spanish World Cup again, at 37! “
Guy Thys had the ears of journalists… but he also understood their influence. Six years later, for the Mexican campaign, he took care that the players did not read the Belgian press arriving there via the Sabena flight, every day, 24 hours late. Because after the pitiful first round saved in extremis by a victory … against Iraq, the newspapers were shooting at the Devils. Without the censorship of their coach, the Belgians might never have reached the semi-finals …
(To be continued: the Euros 1984, 2000 and 2016 of the Devils)
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