By Peter Stevenson
Belgium may have beaten Cyprus 1-0 with a late Eden Hazard goal to move closer to a place at Euro 2016 on Sunday night but coach Marc Wilmots reckoned it was the worst performance he had seen from his flagging side.
He reserved much of his criticism for Liverpool striker Christian Benteke, although he was relieved with a Group B result which sees his team with one foot in next year’s finals in France.
“We won two games in a row but this is the worst team performance I have seen and we will try to rectify the issue,” Wilmots told a news conference with his side having also beaten Bosnia 3-1 on Thursday.
Asked why Benteke was substituted at half-time, the Belgium coach said the striker had put in a “half-performance” and he needed to make a change as soon as possible.
Wilmots felt his team had created the better chances and, despite the poor performance, their character came through.
“Both sides missed chances… but we believed until the end that we would score and managed to got the result we needed,” he told reporters.
Explaining his team’s sluggishness, Wilmots said both sides had struggled due to the humidity, gruelling pre-seasons and the fact they had played 72 hours earlier.
Cyprus coach Pambos Christodoulou felt his team deserved something from their last two games, having also lost 1-0 at home to group leaders Wales five days ago, despite playing better for large portions of both matches.
“Both games were decided on the finer details, but that’s football. We now have two games left and we are still in the hunt for a playoff spot so let’s see what happens,” said Christodoulou.
After eight matches Wales have 18 points, having been held to a 0-0 draw by Israel in Cardiff earlier on Sunday, with second-placed Belgium on 17. Israel have 13 points ahead of Bosnia with 11 and Cyprus on nine.
The nine group winners and runners-up and best third-placed side qualify for the finals while the eight remaining third-placed teams contest playoffs for the final four berths.
Despite Cyprus conceding against Wales in the 82nd minute and Belgium in the 85th, Christodoulou refused to blame the late goals on the fitness of his players but said both matches had opened up as the two teams looked for the winner.
“Although I’ve said it before, some of my players don’t play regularly for their clubs but I won’t blame the defeats on a lack of fitness or concentration because we too had chances to score late in both games,” he said.