Belgium 1-1 Turkey: a possession-based game finishes all square

June 6, 2011

The starting line-ups

Two goals in the first quarter of the game gave Belgium and Turkey a point apiece.

Georges Leekens shuffled his pack, bringing both Eden Hazard and Marvin Ogunjimi back into the side, amongst others, and used a 4-2-3-1 system.

Guus Hiddink’s formation was more of a 4-1-2-3, with Selçuk Şahin deep ahead of his own back four. Kazim Kazim (aka Colin Kazim-Richards) surprisingly played as the lone striker, though he frequently came towards play as something of a false nine.

The game went through phases, with both sides playing very short patient football. With Hiddink a Dutchman, this was something of a Low Countries derby in terms of the ideology of the two managers, and that was reflected in the style of football on the pitch.

Belgium approach

The hosts went ahead very early on, when Ogunjimi fired in a shot at the second time of asking, following a cross from the flank. That wasn’t particularly typical of Belgium’s approach, however, as they generally brought their wide players inside quickly, with both Hazard and Nacer Chadli running with the ball.

A more common tactic in the final third was to play the ball into the channels for Ogunjimi – in particular, threaded balls down the outside of Serdar Kesimal threatened, as Ogunjimi looked to play on the shoulder and get on the end of through-balls.

The wide players narrowing meant that Belgium had three sources of creativity from central positions, but it also made their attacks slightly predictable. This was not a problem with the wide players themselves, more an issue with the lack of attacking threat from full-back. Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen are both centre-backs rather than full-backs (in fact, they are partners at the heart of Ajax’s back four) and whilst they’re both good enough on the ball to be comfortable when played wide, they still don’t have the natural tendency to skip down the line and provide overlaps.

The benefit of playing four centre-backs was the extra height from corners, and with Volkan Demirel flapping at the ball nervously early on, this appeared to be a promising area for Belgium.

Despite Turkey left-back Caglar Birinci enduring an extremely nervous opening to the game on his debut, Hazard didn’t take advantage of this weakness – his natural game is to come inside, when he might have been better off exposing Birinci.

Turkey approach

Turkey took a while to get going – in fact they only really got a grip on the game after they scored on 22 minutes, a goal which came against the run of play.

Hiddink’s side were able to get a grip on the game when they realised that both Emre and Selcuk Inan could get time on the ball when they moved into deep positions, because Belgium’s double pivot wasn’t willing to move so high up the pitch to close them down. When Turkey’s two ball players started to set the tempo and play some more ambitious balls forward, they looked much more dangerous.

The reluctance of Timmy Simons and Steven Defour to move forward was partly because Turkey’s wide attackers didn’t stay on the flanks – they came inside and posed a threat between the lines. Turkey were at their best when those two combined – as they did for the goal – and Belgium found it difficult to cope with those players running with the ball inside.

Turkey sometimes attempted to hit long balls to Kazim, which were unsuccessful because (a) he isn’t really a target man and (b) Belgium had plenty of aerial power at the back. Kazim was more useful when he dropped deep, which forced Vincent Kompany out of the back (he sometimes struggles when coming up the pitch) and created space in the Turkey defence.

Hiddink wanted his players to press reasonably intensively, but Belgium’s players were all very good on the ball, and generally kept possession well.

Second half

The major change in the second half was the introduction of Dries Mertens, in place of the quiet Hazard. Mertens didn’t really do anything different to Hazard in terms of style, but he was certainly more effective – drawing defenders towards him, having a couple of efforts from range, and also winning the penalty that was wasted by Axwel Witsel.

Thomas Vermaelen had replaced his old Ajax teammate Vertonghen at left-back – again, pretty much a straight swap.

Belgium were a little more willing to close Turkey down in the midfield zone after the break, with Defour playing a little higher up the pitch and playing more aggressively, and Simon playing more of a covering role, rather than as part of a double pivot. This meant Belgium pressed better, and after Turkey enjoyed a good spell of dominance either side of half time, Belgium reasserted themselves on the game late on, and but for the missed penalty, would have been rewarded with the win.

Hiddink waited very late to introduce the two Mehmets, Ekici and Topal – as a whole, there was little tactical excitement after the break.


A decent game that was all about control through possession – both sides were very patient with the ball, although neither actually scored when they were dominating the game – Belgium’s first goal came before the game had settled down, whilst Turkey’s came before they’d really imposed themselves in midfield.

Both sides lacked something in the final third – Leekens was braver with an earlier use of his bench. It would have been interesting to see Hiddink introduce his substitutes earlier – with Belgium using a powerful but slightly static back four, removing Kazim for another attacking midfielder and playing without a true striker would have been an interesting option.

Tags: , , , , ,