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Analysis: Matazo’s Belgium cruelly eliminated at the U21 Euros

Essentially needing to defeat Portugal in their final group stage at the UEFA European Under-21 Championship to guarantee their progress, Eliot Matazo’s Belgium fell painfully short by losing 2-1 at the death due to a dubious penalty.

The Match

Starting the match on the front foot, Belgium immediately came close to getting a dream start when Lens star Lois Openda hit the woodwork.

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Portugal were quick to respond, as both teams subsequently enjoyed spells of ascendancy and some decent looks on net in a match where AS Monaco’s Matazo was restored to the starting line-up.

Locked at 0-0 at the interval, the second stanza was all-action, as the Portuguese took the lead just before the hour-mark through a sublime volley from Joao Neves.

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The Belgians then produced a superb reaction to level the ledger through a Yorbe Vertessen header, with Jacky Mathijssen’s decision to bring on the Union Saint-Gilloise forward paying off handsomely.

As the clock ran down and both outfits conjured some decent chances, a harshly awarded penalty to Portugal, that Tiago Dantas converted, ultimately proved the decisive moment in sealing the fate of the Belgian side.

Mathijssen’s Debrief

“No one should blame themselves for this. Everyone saw what happened. I will never forget that penalty. There are phases that I still remember after 20 years and this one I will never forget,” insisted the Belgian manager afterwards.

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“We deserved at least a draw. At one point, it was enough for qualification. But we played to win. My team fought against Portugal, one of the best teams in Europe. Then there was this penalty, which is a real imagination. A lot of players in our team have proven that they can play against international level teams in this tournament. We can regret the efficiency in the two boxes and also some strange decisions.”

Matazo Analysis

To focus on Matazo’s display, and he performed his roles and responsibilities admirably in central midfield despite not lighting up the fiercely contested clash.

On top of keeping things ticking over nicely and breaking the lines on occasion with his neat and tidy passing, plus supporting attacks with his movement, his defensive exertions was where he really stamped his mark.

Tenacious, aware of danger and full of intensity, his ability to read the play and make sound decisions when to press, apply his interventions, track runners or help a colleague were key towards his stopping success.

Breaking up many an attack with a good blend of power and finesse, the stocky destroyer never made life easy for his opponents. Strong, physically imposing and working hard for his team, Matazo deserves credit for largely nullifying his foes in his designated area of operation.

Further upside could be extracted from how he set pressing traps before pouncing, knew when to drop back, shift across or step out and the way he’d jet back to fill gaps in the Belgian backline.

Although he made the odd mistake and was visibly frustrated at being subbed off in the 61st minute as Belgium chased the game, the 21-year-old’s contribution was very positive overall.

Ready to Rest and Refresh

Set for a well-earned break after a long season, the youngster, who’s always learning and continues gaining vital experience, will now enjoy some time off and look to come back fully fit and firing in his quest to keep refining his craft and making encouraging strides with AS Monaco.