De Bruyne in frustrating last dance as unconvincing France win leads Deschamps to lazy legend

Will Ford
De Bruyne Belgium
Kevin De Bruyne could do nothing to stop France.

That’s probably it for Kevin De Bruyne but a France legend should be handed a chance despite Didier Deschamps’ blasphemous claim after another unconvincing display saw them into the quarter-finals.

In the 39th minute, with Belgium camped on the edge of their box amid an increase in pressure from France at the end of the first half, Kevin De Bruyne passed the ball straight to an opposition player. There could be no doubt it was his fault. This wasn’t a case of an inferior teammate not being on his wavelength. De Bruyne made a mistake and waved his arms at Romelu Lukaku like he had just run off with his Milky Bar. It was a moment to add weight to the growing view that De Bruyne’s brilliance for his country is offset by his misery, and even that they may be better off without him.

While England players have shrunk under the weight of expectation and pressure from their fans at Euro 2024, as Belgium did in previous recent tournaments while their Golden Generation remained in tact, it has felt as though this iteration of the Red Devils has been frozen through fear of De Bruyne’s wrath at doing something wrong.

De Bruyne largely keeps his infantilism under wraps at Manchester City, or rather Pep Guardiola does, but with Belgium – particularly now that Eden Hazard has hung up his boots along with other former stars – he holds all the power and has no one to keep him in check. Domenico Tedesco isn’t about to have a go at him for throwing tantrums, or advise him that it may be within the team’s interest not to give their supporters an implied middle finger in response to their actual ones, as he did by ordering his teammates off the pitch after the 0-0 draw with Ukraine.

Having complained pretty much throughout that last group game which ensured their meeting with France while operating in an attacking midfield role, he moved deeper on Monday – presumably at his own behest given he appears to be de facto manager of Belgium these days – and we fully expected him to grow increasingly frustrated at his inability to pass to himself between the lines. To his credit, he didn’t.

The late France goal killed Belgium. Didier Deschamps’ side had dominated the ball and had plenty of half chances, with Kylian Mbappe spurning most of them as Jules Kounde provided arguably the greatest threat from right-back while other more typically conspicuous attacking individuals did little of note before Randal Kolo Muani’s cross-shot was deflected beyond Koen Casteels.

Belgium looked to be growing into it after Orel Mangala came on and De Bruyne moved further forward. Jeremy Doku was getting on the ball in more dangerous positions, and it was his excellent reverse pass into De Bruyne which could have seen this take and others on the game eulogising over Tedesco and De Bruyne’s perfect game plan. Instead, as outcome bias dictates, we’re instead questioning whether they waited too long.

France looked no more dangerous with De Bruyne as the No.10, while Belgium did, and the fans may well now be wondering why their best player was stunted for the majority of a game that was there for the taking.

It will probably be the last of De Bruyne for Belgium. He was hinting at international retirement after the World Cup and has said it’s in his career plan, in a bid presumably to extend his club career, which looks set shortly to involve a helluva lot of Saudi gold.

Despite his childish outbursts and difficult relationships – seemingly with everyone associated with the international team – the juice is quite clearly worth the squeeze. His teammates may be able to breathe easier when he’s gone, but Belgium may not ever see a player of his ilk again, and their supporters may well if anything be feeling as though their country let De Bruyne down rather than the other way around. As is often the case, it’s probably a bit of both.

France were fine. They’re very solid and that may well be enough to win this tournament. And we’ve got to assume that at some stage their ludicrous wealth of attacking talent will come to the party. There were flashes of Mbappe brilliance, but his finishing was off. There was the odd eyes-in-the-back-of-his-head-type pass from Antoine Griezmann but they ultimately came to nothing. Perhaps the answer to their faultering forward play – despite Deschamps’ blasphemous claim that he lacks the ‘commitment’ to be named in the starting XI – is Olivier Giroud. They’ve always looked better with him leading the line.

It’s time for The Phoenix for Les Blues and the time is up for De Bruyne, whose international career will be one of disappointment, permeated by his typical brilliance and no small amount of arm-flapping frustration. We feel it too, Kevin.