Belgium 0 Slovakia 1: A first major Euro 2024 upset after two disallowed Lukaku goals

Slovakia produced the first major upset of the 2024 European Championship as they clung on to beat Belgium, the world’s third-ranked side.

Slovakia are 48th in FIFA’s rankings but continued a trend of early goals in this tournament when Ivan Schranz capitalised on a failed Belgium attempt to play out from the back to put his team ahead after seven minutes.

Romelu Lukaku twice thought he had equalised, including with just a few minutes left, but on both occasions his strikes were ruled out by VAR.

Those decisions, one for offside and the second for a handball by Lois Openda, meant Belgium could not find an equaliser and endured a disappointing start to the Euros, their first tournament appearance since they were eliminated in miserable fashion at the group stage of the 2022 World Cup.

After Romania surprisingly beat Ukraine 3-0 earlier in Group E, Belgium must now rally quickly if they are to avoid the kind of fate that befell them in Qatar.

Were Slovakia inspired by another shock earlier in the day?

“We know we are by no means favourites for the match,” said Slovakia manager Francesco Calzona before this game. “I hope the team plays beyond themselves and get the utmost in terms of results. What matters is not losing.”

While Slovakia were clear underdogs in this game, perhaps Romania’s victory over Ukraine a couple of hours earlier inspired Calzona’s side to go for it.

Their goal came against the run of play, with Slovakia pressing high up the pitch and stopping Jeremy Doku from playing out close to the corner flag. The Manchester City winger attempted to pass to Timothy Castagne on the edge of the penalty area, only for the ball to be turned over and midfielder Juraj Kucka was allowed a shot on goal. Koen Casteels, starting in the Belgium goal in the absence from the squad of Thibaut Courtois, was strong enough to save the initial effort, but the rebound fell into the path of Schranz, who gave his side the lead with a smart finish.

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Slovakia’s seventh-minute strike continued a trend of early goals at this European Championship (Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP via Getty Images)

The goal stunned those assembled at the Waldstadion, but perhaps Calzona had set a trap. Before the game began, the head coach said: “Belgium are good in transition and on the counter-attack, but we have our own way of playing. When you press well it can be an advantage, but if you don’t then you leave more space.“

Slovakia — a nation blessed with more talented defenders than attackers — rocked Belgium in the first half, and it all came from proactive defensive work high up the field.

Carl Anka

How costly were Lukaku’s misses?

As one of the few remaining pillars of Belgium’s Golden Generation, Lukaku was always going to shoulder a heavy burden this summer. In this transitional squad — top-heavy in some areas and weak in others — he is the main man.

But this was an evening during which just about everything went against the 31-year-old.

In the first half alone, he spurned three presentable chances, notably firing straight at Martin Dubravka from close range just three minutes in following an electric run by Doku.

Then, after the break, there were those two disallowed goals — the first when he was adjudged to be offside following Amadou Onana’s header and the second coming when Openda was somewhat harshly deemed to have handled in the build-up.

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Romelu Lukaku, Belgium’s record scorer, thought he had equalised in the second half but the goal was disallowed (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images)

Games of this ilk are unusual for Lukaku, who has netted 85 times in just 116 caps en route to becoming his country’s record scorer. But this rare off-day did conjure memories of his last appearance at a major tournament; a 0-0 group stage draw against Croatia in which he missed a hatful of chances and Belgium crashed out of the Qatar World Cup.

He will need to find his scoring boots soon if Belgium are to avoid another embarrassing early exit.

Patrick Boyland

How damaging could this setback be for Belgium?

That Belgium Golden Generation never quite achieved what their talent promised. A little too early and lacking full-backs for Euro 2016, a little too late and lacking midfield bite for Euro 2020. Current manager Domenico Tedesco is leading a new, younger Belgium side that came into this tournament with reduced ambitions (a quarter-final exit was widely considered a probable outcome in the country’s media) but they were still expected to beat Slovakia comfortably.

“We are all here to enjoy a good start to this competition,” said captain Kevin De Bruyne before the game. “We can focus on positives or negatives from the past but the team is sharp and ready to start this tournament.”

Yet Belgium were limited by long-standing issues. They again had problems at full-back, with Yannick Carrasco struggling to find fluency with Leandro Trossard ahead. Belgium again looked timid in central areas (Axel Witsel was only fit enough for the bench). Youri Tielemans — a second-half substitute brought on to give his side a greater semblance of control in midfield — ended up being booked 80 seconds after his introduction.

On more than one occasion, Belgium attacked a corner with no greater plan than “aim for Amadou Onana”.

Call them unlucky, call the result unfortunate, but Belgium were beaten because they were unconvincing for large sections of the game. They were slow to respond to the aggression of Slovakia’s high press in the first half and thwarted by the streetwise defending of Calzona’s side in the second.

Prior to this game, Belgium had been unbeaten in all 14 fixtures under Tedesco (won 10, drawn four). Romania’s surprise win over Romania in the day’s early kick-off ripped up the form book for Group E. This threw it out entirely.

Carl Anka

What did Domenico Tedesco say?

We will bring you this after he has spoken at the post-match press conference.

What did Francesco Calzona say?

We will bring you this after he has spoken at the post-match press conference.

What next for Belgium?

Saturday, June 22: Romania, Group E (Cologne), 8pm BST, 3pm ET

What next for Slovakia?

Friday, June 21: Ukraine, Group E (Dusseldorf), 2pm BST, 9am ET

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(Top photo: Thomas Kienzle/AFP via Getty Images)

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