The Manchester City midfielder produced a memorable second-half performance to help his country qualify for the Euro 2020 knockout round.
The stage was set for an upset in the Group B encounter between Denmark and Belgium in Euro 2020, going into halftime. The former were leading 1-0 following an early goal by Yusuf Poulsen, with the Belgians unable to make much of an impact. It was 45 minutes they will want to forget about fast. With Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard not featuring, even a prolific striker like Romelu Lukaku found it difficult to make much of a difference. Journalists were eagerly awaiting the end of the clash, in order to write tons of content on a massive upset. There would be a lot of sympathy at the same time with the Danish team considering the absence of Christian Eriksen, setting up the stage perfectly for some drama.
However, the introduction of Kevin de Bruyne just when the second half started with Dries Mertens making his way out, changed the course of the game completely. De Bruyne feined to send two Denmark defenders sliding past him after Romelu Lukaku burst past two defenders down the right, slipping the ball inside. The Manchester City midfielder cut the ball across for Thorgan Hazard to convert, marking the equaliser in the 55th minute. That goal was the seventh of Thorgan’s senior international career and three of those have now come in 2021. The energy had changed completely since the arrival of De Bruyne, with the Belgians way more lively. Not content with simply providing the assist for the equaliser, the Manchester City midfielder made a world of a difference striding on to the ball after two neat touches from the Hazards, drilling a low first-time effort inside Kasper Schmeichel’s near post from 20 metres. That goal marked the first-ever tournament goal for De Bruyne in the Euros, having scored in the 2014 and 2018 edition of the World Cups.
As the final whistle blew, the Belgium fans knew that they owed the 2-1 win majorly to the contribution of the Manchester City midfielder, who was playing his first game of the tournament. De Bruyne had sustained an injury in the final of the recently concluded edition of the UEFA Champions League against Chelsea, missing the game against Russia. However, he made a soaring comeback in a vital clash against Denmark, making it seem as if he had not been away at any stage.
“I was happy, of course, but I respect people here too much [to celebrate wildly]. I went to the part of the pitch where [Christian] Eriksen collapsed on Saturday and I stayed calm,” said De Bruyne while explaining his understated celebration after scoring.
“[Belgium coach] Roberto Martinez got me into the game by asking me to create space. I scored. We can be happy. We knew that there would be difficult moments against Denmark and in front of this crowd, with everything that happened,” he added.
The Manchester City midfielder recorded a 100 % shot accuracy and take-on rate. He completed the most take-ons (5), registered the most touches in the box (3), creating two big chances (the most). De Bruyne completed two shots on target, recording a goal and an assist. No player has been directly involved in more goals (2) for Belgium in the popular tournament barring the Manchester City midfielder. Belgium have emerged victorious in a Euro game in which they were trailing for the first time, further winning their opening two matches in the popular tournament for the first time.
“You get your top man on and it was like ‘he’s here – we’re going to be ok’. He scored one, made one, never gave the ball away.. it’s a different level,” said Graeme Souness in an interaction with ITV Football.
Belgium defender Jan Vertonghen further hailed the impact of De Bruyne on the game, hailing the “extra quality” he brings.
“The Danes surprised us with the system they played in and in the first half we were unrecognizable. We were always one step behind, it seemed. But then De Bruyne, Witsel and Eden Hazard came on which just changed the game. They bring extra quality, we don’t have to tiptoe around that,” he said as quoted by UEFA.
De Bruyne is coming into the Euro 2020 following a fantastic campaign for City. He played a key role in the English giants winning the Premier League, resulting in the midfielder winning a second consecutive Player of the Year award in the Premier League. De Bruyne further helped the club reach the final of the UEFA Champions League, where they were defeated by Chelsea.
The footballer has reached another level of brilliance under manager Pep Guardiola, and one can certainly expect him to compete for the Ballon’d or if he maintains the same level of focus and intensity in the future.