Denmark – Belgium: Danes Yield To De Bruyne Dominance (1-2)

Belgium are through to the knockout phases, but it wasn’t without concerns. Denmark dominated the first half with smart pressing and easy progression, whilst Belgium lacked solutions. Then Roberto Martínez flew his main man in and Kevin de Bruyne changed the game. 

Tactical analysis and match report by Joel Parker. 

No matter what happened next for Denmark, the relief coming from the improvement of Christian Eriksen’s condition outweighed anything that would take place on the football field from that moment on. 

Nevertheless, Kasper Hjulmand has inherited a squad whose strength of the spine hasn’t gone unnoticed, but unsure of its best formation. They have bounced between 4-3-3 / 4-2-3-1 shapes, which can see strikers Yussuf Poulsen and Martin Braithwaite operate in wide areas.

Belgium started their EURO 2020 campaign in style, as they strolled past Russia by a 3-0 scoreline. Although Belgium’s buildup was as dynamic as it usually is under Roberto Martínez, Romelu Lukaku was the axis of all great things going forward. Though up against a one-dimensional opponent, spaces were open for a greater challenger to exploit. 

Hjulmand made a formation change, into a 3-4-1-2 shape, which Denmark has experimented with before. This involved Jannik Vestergaard joining the center-backs, whilst Jonas Wind was replaced by Mikkel Damsgaard.

The big news out of Belgium was that Kevin de Bruyne returned to the bench after his injury sustained in the Champions League final.  Martínez also made two changes, with Thomas Meunier and Jason Denayer coming in for Timothy Castagne and Dedryck Boyata. 

Four shots in the first five minutes

Denmark flew out the blocks. Four shots were taken in the first five minutes of the game, as high pressing from the hosts put Belgium under immense pressure. In their high pressing approach, Denmark’s 3-4-3 shape matched their opponents and forced them to pass the ball out wide with vertical runs towards the channel.

When Jason Denayer aimed to play the ball centrally, towards Youri Tielemans, a misplaced pass put Belgium at their most vulnerable state, where there was no wing-back support for the center-backs. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg mopped up the loose ball, encouraged Denayer to step out and opened space for Yussuf Poulsen who steered the ball home. Denmark leading after two minutes!

Denmark numb down Belgium buildup

The work out of possession put Denmark on top, throughout the first half. Tielemans and Leander Dendoncker were given little space to move, congested between the forward and midfield lines, with routes towards the double pivot Two central midfielders next to each other. being covered by the three Danish attackers.

Denmark’s pressing scheme forced the Belgian wing-backs to drop deep and encouraged the center-backs to play the ball towards them. When Daniel Wass pressed aggressively on Thorgan Hazard, Thomas Delaney would drop into a more central position, which gave their midfield an asymmetric line once the trigger was engaged. The staggering of the Danish players kept their shape balanced and forced Belgium to go a lot more direct.

13th minute: Example of Denmark’s pressing scheme, out of the 3-4-3 shape. The matching against their opponents worked effectively at disrupting Belgium’s patterns, which encouraged Jan Vertonghen to play to Thorgan Hazard, who could only hit long towards the forwards.

The lack of solutions from Belgian forwards failed to get their team out of jail. Yannick Carrasco dropped the deepest out of the three, without properly engaging with passing sequences or offering rotation with Hazard. Dries Mertens sat the highest, almost as a second striker, but did not get into the positions where their focal point could work off. 

Romelu Lukaku sat more towards the right side of the field and was the main target of Belgium’s emergency balls forward. However, assertive man-marking from Simon Kjær, as well as multiple Danish center-backs around him, resulted in little space for Lukaku to work off.

Against Russia, Belgium had managed to establish themselves on the halfway line and was able to consistently rotate on the channels to provide support. These moments were rare, in the first half of this match and in deeper scenarios, Denmark sat in an organized 5-4-1 / 5-2-2-1 medium-to-low-block, A low block refers to a team that retreats deep in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents around their own box. A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half. which was just as successful in limiting Belgian wing-backs and encouraged them to play deeper. 

Chaotic Belgian pressing

The switch to a back three worked in Denmark’s favor. Not only do they have three accomplished center-backs, who can play the ball out effectively; but the central overloads When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. enabled Wass and Joakim Mæhle to engage higher up the field and create combinations with the center-midfielder and Mikkel Damsgaard as the number ten.

From deep, Denmark were able to progress up the field quite quickly. This was due to Belgium’s switching between a passive 3-4-3 medium block and moments of messy counterpressure. After losing possession, a team immediately moves towards the ball as a unit to regain possession, or at least slow down the pace of the counterattack. What made their press noticeably different is the wing-backs not engaging higher up the field, to aid their center-backs on the transition.

33rd minute: Example of Belgium’s disorganized counterpressure. With Tielemans and Dendoncker dragged out wide and both wingbacks deep, Jannick Vestergaard is able to play a simple pass, through the lines, to Thomas Delaney. Close chance from Damsgaard is followed in the second phase of the attack.

As a result, the inside forward and center-midfielder is responsible for pressing in wider locations, which easily drew them out of their defensive shape. Due to the double pivot of Denmark splitting in the buildup, one of Højbjerg or Thomas Delaney could receive higher up the field and in a massive amount of space. If the Belgian were more compact, going direct to Poulsen was also a good option in bypassing the first two lines. Denmark outshot Belgian nine to one in the first half, in a controlled display. 

De Bruyne is deployed

Martínez’s substitution at halftime held great significance. Kevin de Bruyne stepped onto the field for his first minutes of the competition, a presence that absorbs most of his teams’ attacking play through him, but at Belgium, this is most prominent. 

De Bruyne was given the license to drift and combine, as he operated out of the false nine position. Lukaku remained more on the right of the forwards, but his role and positioning weren’t too dissimilar to what we saw in the first half. 

Once De Bruyne was on, the game state changed significantly. Belgium built a lot more in a 3-1-4-2 structure, with De Bruyne as part of the rotation between Dendoncker and Tielemans. Carrasco and Thomas Meunier held the width and Denmark were forced back into their 5-4-1 defensive block a lot more than pressing high.

Belgium’s 3-1-4-2 buildup shape versus Denmark’s 5-4-1 medium block, as seen at the start of the second half.

Shortly after the change, Belgium grabbed their equalizer from a similar pattern seen when they are on the transition. Counterattacks are often launched with a direct pass to the central receiver, before quickly moving the ball out wide. De Bruyne sparked Lukaku into action after Vestergaard failed to control an interception. Lukaku drove forward, De Bruyne dragged the ball across to meet an excellent run from Thorgan Hazard.

The introduction of Axel Witsel and Eden Hazard further improved the Belgium system. Witsel sat deeper than Dendoncker, but was an important anchor centrally and enabled Tielemans to move further forward. Hazard moved more central than Carrasco and was engaged in more passing phases. Although Belgium didn’t build a vast quantity of opportunities, their circulation of the ball had improved substantially. 

Their second goal was excellently crafted, with all three attackers involved. Toby Alderweireld’s ball over the top was kept alive from Lukaku, who kept the ball down the channel and into Tielemans’ path. The Hazard brothers combined, to tee up De Bruyne, who smashed the ball into the bottom corner – which will go down as one of the finest goals in the competition so far. 

Too late for Danish resurgence 

Hjulmand tinkered with his team’s shape once again, which produced some improvements but without the potency in the box. Before the second goal, Denmark had switched to a 3-5-2 shape, as Christian Nørgaard replaced Poulsen, to become the third center midfielder. 

Damsgaard was then replaced by Andreas Cornelius as Hjulmand reverted to having two strikers upfront. Combinations down the right channel and halfspace gave them access to the final third, as they were able to catch Thorgan Hazard out of position and drag Vertonghen out into a wider position. Though Witsel was defending in the same space, the area had opened for Denmark to produce a few decent crosses and carries to create chances. 

Martin Braithwaite was one of the key components in these moves, able to drop and combine with substitute Jens Stryger Larsen, before supporting Cornelius with a late run into the box or provide carries of his own from out wide. He had attempts from similar situations and locations, but only one was able to properly test Thibaut Courtois. 

The last of Denmark’s changes came with five minutes left, as Vestergaard was replaced by right-winger Andreas Skov Olsen. They were back in the 4-3-3 shape and on top for the dying moments of the game. Although Belgium conceded the spaces, Denmark could only come close to an equalizer.


Looking at expected goals, The amount of goals a team is expected to score based on the quality of the shots they take.this is a pretty good example of why game state context is majorly important. Denmark had been on top in the first half but had struggled to build on the high-level chances created in the opening stages. Once De Bruyne had arrived, Belgium took total control until they had taken the lead. 

Nevertheless, Denmark have been majorly unfortunate in their opening games of the group. Over forty shots taken, seven shots conceded, zero points and in the fourth position. However, progression to the next stages is still a very real prospect, if they can beat Russia. 

A half-hour display indicates who Belgium are going to rely on in the rest of the competition. Lukaku is a world-class attacker in his own right, but De Bruyne is the player who can take Belgium to another level. They are through to the knockout stages, but big questions still loom over.     

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Joel Parker (21) is an Everton fan. Whenever he’s not watching his beloved Everton, Joel spends his time analyzing all sorts of football. Chief editor and Founder of Toffee Analysis. [ View all posts ]


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