2016 Ireland – Belgium

Having played well in their first game in Euro 2016 against Sweden, Ireland were confident going into their second game against Belgium. Alas that confidence was mis-placed and Belgium ran riot in the 2nd half scoring 3 goals without reply. I had gone to Belgium partly to gauge how much interest there was in Belgium towards Euro 2016 compared to Ireland.  I was also particularly interested on how the tournament was covered by Belgian TV and if their post match analysis was more like Sky with lots of slick graphics and statistics or more pundit orientated like RTE. To be fair to Belgian French TV station, La Une, their coverage of the game was very good and the post match analysis was excellent. In Ireland, post match analysis tends to focus on any controversial incidents in a game whereas in Belgium, the pundits were more focused on how well their team had played. What did surprise me that eventhough a lot of players were interviewed after the game, manager Marc Wilmots was not interviewed and, in fact, was barely mentioned by the pundits. Also some of the features included by the La Une TV station towards the end of their program were very poor and spoiled what otherwise was an excellent production.

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The Belgium nickname is the Red Devils or Diables Rouge but this graphic translates as Blue, White, Devils. Belgium on paper have the best squad of nearly any international team in the world and they were one of the pre-tournament favorites. But having lost their first game against Italy, the pressure was on as another loss might see them eliminated from the tournament.

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La Une TV studio at half-time. During the first half, Ireland kept the Belgians quiet and as the game went on, you could tell the commentators were getting more and more exasperated. At half time, the station switched to a studio in Brussels with 2 presenters and 3 pundits, none of whom I recognized. However, what surprised me about the pundits were how positive they were about the Belgian performance, even-though their team had created very few clear-cut  chances.

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Overhead shot of the La Une TV studio. Belgium had lost to Italy in their first game so this was a game they had to win. Had Ireland been struggling against a weaker team in a game they had to win, the RTE pundits would have been much more critical. But the Belgian attitude seemed to be that they had the Irish on the rack and it was only a matter of time before Belgium scored

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Lukaku breaks the deadlock with a superb strike from the edge of the box. The confidence exhibited by the Belgian pundits proved to be well founded during the 2nd half as within 5 minutes of the re-start, Belgium had the lead. Shane Long could have got a penalty after he was kicked in the face while in the Belgian box but the referee waved play on and the Belgians cleared up the field to first De Bruyne and then Lukaku, who slotted the ball into the Irish net.

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Witsel scores Belgium’s second goal with a powerful downward header. 10 minutes later, and after 28 passes, Meunier crossed to Witsel who headed past Randolph for Belgium’s second. Belgium were now rampant and Hazard then skinned McCarthy before passing to Lukaku for his 2nd goal and Belgium’s third. It was all one way traffic and Lukaku could well have had a hat-trick had he not been substituted with 10 minutes to go.

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Lukaku gets Belgium’s third goal after superb run by Hazard. Before the game, some Belgium fans were calling today St. Hat-tricks Day on Twitter instead of St. Patricks Day and how I scoffed as Ireland rarely concede 3 goals in a game. But, in hindsight,  the fans on Twitter weren’t far wrong. Belgium on paper have the best international team in the world and are capable of scoring hat-tricks against any team.

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The game finished 3-0 to Belgium. Up until that Saturday afternoon, Belgium had under-performed in their qualifying games and also in their pre-Euro 2016 friendlies. But unfortunately, their top players finally clicked during that 2nd half against Ireland and indeed, they could have ended up with 6 or 7 goals such was their dominance.

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LA Une TV studio at full time. After the game, La Une switched from the stadium to an ecstatic studio. Sports shows on the Continent often have a studio audience and one of the fans took centre stage in front of the presenters and pundits  to wave his scarf around and whip up the crowd. This went on for about a minute or so as air horns were being sounded and everybody was cheering loudly. It is something I have never seen on either Irish or UK TV after a big game and it was just incredible to watch.

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Post match analysis was very good. When everyone calmed down, the pundits got to have their say. What was interesting is how they highlighted not just the 3 goals but also other passages of play which led to only half chances. Their analysis was much more superior than Irish TV and in particular, they counted 28 passes before the cross for Witsel’s goal. Witsel got Man of the Match but personally, I would have given it to Hazard as he was just outstanding in both the first and secnd halves.

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All the interviews were in French. Both Lukaku and Witsel were interviewed after the game and spoke perfect French, but then Kevin De Bruyne was interviewed and seemed to struggle with his French. De Bruyne is obviously a Flemish name so Kevin probably grew up speaking only Flemish and while his French was fine, you could tell he was not a native speaker.

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Very few people in Belgium speak both Flemish and French.The language divide in Belgium is something I also noticed about a month after this game when Thomas De Gendt from Belgium won the stage to Mont Ventoux in the Tour De France. He was interviewed on French TV in English and his remarks then translated by an interpreter. Ironically, Chris Froome was also interviewed after this stage on which he famously ran about 100m up the hill without a bike and he spoke in French. What was a crazy stage ended up with the winner from Belgium being interviewed in English and the British leader of the race being interviewed in French. I have no idea if Thomas De Gendt refuses to speak French because he is Flemish or maybe his English is better than his French. But what both this interview and Kevin De Bruyne’s interview does highlight is that most Belgian people are not bi-lingual. Perhaps this language divide is partly why Belgium have under-performed up until now in big tournaments and also why there were very few Belgian flags to be seen.

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Manager Marc Wilmots was barely mentioned in the post match analysis. Interestingly, the Belgian manager Marc Wilmots was not interviewed on La Une eventhough the post match program went on for over an hour after the game. This is something that always happens on Irish and UK TV but again, Wilmots is a Flemish name and it is possible that he does not speak French. Interestingly, some fans did have Belgian tops with Flemish writing on in the studio. When they show games on TG4 in Ireland , the commentary is always in Irish but after a game, some players will often be interviewed in English. But during the 3 hour plus broadcast by La Une, not one word of Flemish or English was uttered by anyone.

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This fans Flemish top translates as “Here is the party”. Of course, Belgium would go on to reach the quarter finals in Euro 2016 before being knocked out by Wales. After that defeat, Wilmots was sacked and he has since been replaced by the ex Everton manager, Roberto Martinez, someone who certainly doesn’t speak Flemish and probably doesn’t have any French having grown up in Spain. Of course, Roberto has perfect English and as nearly all Belgians speak English, it will be interesting if he decides to communicate with his players using English. Of course, Roberto is not the first foreign manager to take over an International team. Even here in Ireland, we had Giovanni Trappatoni as manager for 6 years even-though he needed an interpreter. But perhaps, the appointment of Martinez by the Belgian FA is an attempt to get beyond the language divide in Belgium.

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Shane Long being clattered by 2 Belgian defenders. What was also interesting about the post match analysis was that no effort was made to get an Irish perspective on the game. None of the Irish players or staff were interviewed and Ireland’s half chances in the game weren’t even discussed even-though the Apres Match show went on for about an hour. The only time Ireland were mentioned was regarding Shane Long’s penalty appeal when he was kicked in the face by 2 Belgian defenders. One of the pundits, who may have been an ex-referee said he would have given a penalty to shocked looks from his fellow pundits.

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Belgian reporter at almost empty fan park. At one point, the studio cut  to a reporter beside a big screen at a fan park in Brussels city centre. But at this stage, it was 30 minutes after the game had finished and most of the spectators had already dispersed. Incredibly, no footage was shown of the park when Belgium scored their 3 goals. While the reporter did her best to describe the atmosphere during the game, the sight of piles of litter and drunken fans in the background did not come across well. Disappointingly, no attempt was made to interview the fans either here or at the game in Bordeaux.

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I am a Celebrity Footballer, Get Me Out Of Here. Instead, we were treated to a sit down interview with Lukaku in a makeshift studio somewhere in the stadium. Lukaku had already been interviewed immediately after the game so to see him being grilled again for about 10 minutes half an hour after his first interview was very strange. Maybe ‘cos he had scored 2 goals he was expected to do 2 interviews.  Poor Lukaku didn’t know to look at the camera, the reporter or the TV behind him during this interview. The whole episode reminded me of a politician being grilled about some issue or other on RTE Primetime or BBC Newsnight.  Indeed, it was more reminiscent of Frost Nixon rather than a football interview.

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Belgian politicians meeting the players probably before the game. Part of the post match analysis also consisted of about a dozen photos of the team meeting what were probably Belgian politicians. It was a very strange and archaic thing to show and was reminiscent of something you would see in a Pathe newsreel from 80 years ago. You could understand showing the photos if the politicians were then interviewed about their thought’s on the game. But the whole incident passed without any comments from neither the presenters nor the pundits. It was a very strange item to include in the post match analysis.

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3D image of Romelu Lukaku in the TV studio. Some of the graphics included in the post match analysis were very good and way ahead of what appears on Irish TV. But many of the post match features  were poorly executed. The idea of a reporter at the fan park in Brussels was good but to not include footage of the crowd when Belgium scored was poor. The same when Lukaku was being interviewed sitting down with his back to the TV rather than standing up facing the TV so he could describe his movement and what he was thinking as he scored both goals. La Une obviously do not have a big budget but a simple touchscreen would have made a big difference to the Lukaku interview.

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This graphic translates as “Blue, White, Match”. I first thought this graphic means “Game, Set and Match” but no it just means “Blue, White, Match”. Perhaps it is being used because Euro 2016 is being played in France as blue white and red are the colors of France. But color is an important element in national identity and perhaps the producers are trying to imply that this is a blue, white and red team that just happens to be playing in the Belgian colors of red, back and yellow. The use of color by the producers was very subliminal. Notice from the screenshots at the start of this post, that at half-time, when Belgium were only drawing 0 – 0, the studio was decked in red light. But at full time, the studio was lit up in bright blue and it remained that way for the rest of the post match analysis.

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This graphic translates as “Blue, White, Magazine”. First it was “Blue, White Devils”, then “Blue, White, Match and now “Blue, White,Magazine”. Notice a theme in all these graphics. When I saw the above graphic, I thought that the show would include maybe some Twitter comments or interviews with fans, things you would expect in a magazine type show. But no there was nothing of the sort. It was in this section of the show that they did the Frost Nixon style sit down interview with Lukaku and followed that with some photos of the team meeting what I assume are local politicians. When these features were over, there was no mention of Belgium’s next game against Sweden the following Wednesday and I don’t think they even showed a simple table of Group E with Italy on top and Belgium second after the first 2 games. The Apres Match show ended with an utterly pointless feature about Brazilian prisoners playing football whilst in jail. I kid you not. They obviously had 10 minutes of TV to fill and couldn’t find anything better to show. It was probably filmed during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and they just repeated it eventhough it had absolutely no connection to today’s game or with Euro 2016. Lame, just lame. Had Ireland just beat Belgium 3 – 0, Irish TV would have finished on a much more upbeat note and certainly wouldn’t have shown Brazilian prisoners knocking a ball around even if Pat Hickey was one of the prisoners in the footage.