By Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports Soccer Writer
Maybe Belgian fans shouldn’t worry after all.
Five days after suffering a 4-1 shellacking by the archrival Netherlands — a defeat that left many wondering if the No. 2-ranked Red Devils really have what it takes to lift the World Cup later this year — Belgium responded in convincing fashion Wednesday, with a 6-1 comeback victory over Poland in both teams’ second match of the 2022-23 UEFA Nations League.
Polish star Robert Lewandowski opened the scoring against the run of play in the 26th minute, but Roberto Martinez’s team, which squandered several chances to take an early lead in Brussels, equalized through Axel Witsel before the first half was over.
Belgium’s Axel Witsel scores a WONDER GOAL against Poland
Belgium leveled the score right before halftime against Poland on an outside-the-box screamer from Axel Witsel.
Here are three quick thoughts on the rout.
Motivation no issue for Belgium
Everyone knows how talented Roberto Martinez’s squad is. With all-world players at every position and backups who would start for just about any other national team, their quality has never been in question. Their commitment to winning this tournament, on the other, hand, certainly was after they fell behind at home for the second game in a row.
Before losing to the Dutch, star Manchester City midfielder De Bruyne raised eyebrows when he publicly disparaged the four-year-old Nations League, Europe’s second-most prestigious event for national teams following the quadrennial Euros.
“For me, the Nations League is unimportant,” he said. “Just glorified friendlies after a long and tough season. I am not looking forward to it.”
De Bruyne and his teammates looked like they didn’t want to be there last week, especially after veteran forward Romelu Lukaku went down with an injury, underscoring De Bruyne’s concerns about the load the competition places on players.
But the Belgians were on the front foot from the opening whistle Wednesday, and they looked every bit like World Cup contenders against a fellow Qatar-bound foe who just happened to have the player voted FIFA’s best the past two years, Lewandoswki.
Belgium scores four goals in 20 minutes in 6-1 victory
Belgium scored four goals in the last 20 minutes of their 6-1 victory over Poland in the UEFA Nations League.
Make no mistake: This was a statement victory for Belgium. And you can be sure the rest of the World Cup field got the message loud and clear.
It won’t get any easier for Poland
The Poles’ second-half capitulation Wednesday was even more alarming, considering that they had a full week to recover after beating Wales in Warsaw on June 1.
They won’t get much more rest this month. Lewandowski and his mates next must travel to Rotterdam to face the Netherlands — who scored deep into second-half stoppage time Wednesday to beat the Welsh — before returning home to take on this same Belgian squad next week.
Poland vs. Belgium highlights — UEFA Nations League
Poland scored the first goal against Belgium, with Robert Lewandowski’s clinical finish in the 28th minute. However, Belgium turned the momentum of the game with Axel Witsel’s equalizer in the 42nd minute and continued to apply pressure in the second half.
Those two matches will be even more difficult for Poland after one of the most lopsided losses in their history in Belgium’s capital. They don’t need to rebound quite as emphatically as their opponents did Wednesday, but they need to do whatever is necessary to rebuild their confidence before the summer break.
If not, they risk going into the second half of a World Cup year with their morale badly damaged — hardly a recipe for success at the sport’s highest level.
Can Belgium keep it going?
If the Red Devils go on to win their first World Cup in December, folks will surely point back to this game as a pivotal moment, the time they were forced to refocus following a humiliating setback, the win that ultimately put them en route to glory.
Maybe it will down like that. But Qatar 2022 is still more than five months away, and a lot can happen between now and then. That’s why it will be fascinating to watch how Belgium approaches its final two matches this month. A trip to Wales looms this weekend before the rematch with the Poles; Martinez’s men can’t afford to have a letdown in either.
Belgium’s defining statement in victory over Poland
Alexi Lalas and the FOX Soccer crew react to the strong performance from the Belgium side against Poland in the UEFA Nations League.
September’s pair of Nations League games will be even more telling. After hosting Wales, Belgium will meet the Dutch away from home in their final tune-up before the World Cup. As good as Wednesday’s performance was, the outcome of that one will offer an even better data point as far as where the Belgians stand heading into the main event this fall.
One of the leading soccer journalists in North America, Doug McIntyre has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.
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