Jeering fans, lasers & late arrival - yet Belgium still qualify

Kevin de Bruyne instructs Belgium players to walk away from fans
Belgium won one, lost one and drew one of their three group games [Getty Images]

Belgium secured their spot in the last 16 of Euro 2024, but there were few celebrations and no adulation at full-time in Stuttgart.

Instead, captain Kevin de Bruyne led his team-mates away from the fans who jeered loudly, expressing their frustration at the goalless draw with Ukraine.

Minutes earlier, the midfielder had played a corner short, kept it near the flag and did not attempt to score from the set-piece. It was eventually played back to goalkeeper Koen Casteels and met with intense booing from the Belgium support.

"There is one minute left of the game so you don't want to take any risks," said De Bruyne.

"I understand people want us to win but if we go for the corner, they win it back, then they score, then everyone will kill me.

"Sometimes you need to take certain risks and sometimes you need to be smart. Two minutes from the end you need to be smart, definitely."

It was a move which sparked discontent from his side's fans, who hours earlier had marched to the stadium in huge numbers while chanting and singing De Bruyne's name.

Belgium ended runners-up in Group E to Romania, with four points from three matches and means Domenico Tedesco's men must face World Cup finalists France next.

But after leaving Stuttgart on such bad terms with their supporters, what message does De Bruyne have before their crucial last-16 tie?

"We just need [the fans], I don’t know what else to say. We just need them, you know?" he said.

"We will need them against France like we needed them in the last three games."

'They don't seem to enjoy playing with each other'

Belgium's players did not hang around at full-time and were jeered heavily as they exited down the tunnel - De Bruyne also booed as he was named Man of the Match.

In contrast, the Ukraine players and staff applauded their supporters warmly at the other end of the pitch having been knocked out of the competition despite finishing on the same number of points as the rest of their Group E opponents, but left in bottom spot through goal difference.

Manchester City's De Bruyne added: "I have had a lot of difficult and painful moments in my career. It's not very nice to go through, but whatever happens, whatever the score, you need to know how to manage the less fine moments.

"We know we could do better but on the other hand we qualified and unfortunately nobody really [celebrates] this - but the team deserves it."

Tedesco admitted he was "surprised" at the fans' reaction but not concerned about Belgium's performances so far in the tournament.

"The other two games were good. If you set the bar really high then of course the expectations are high," he said.

"We had a tough opponent and they were very deep. We had a lot of possession and we had to score and then it's another game.

"If they score one goal, we are out. But in the end we qualified and it was not easy at all. I'm proud of my team and they did well."

It was not the way Belgium had hoped to progress, losing their support and underwhelming in a lifeless, goalless draw.

Manager Tedesco was not impressed with their preparations either, citing an hour delay - apparently due to a slow police convoy to the stadium from their hotel - as a factor.

During the game, laser pointers were also shone on the faces of Belgium's players, including De Bruyne, who informed English referee Anthony Taylor afterwards of the incident.

"Everything is happening here and is allowed," said a clearly frustrated Tedesco.

"We have a delay of one hour and they do not delay the match. We had lasers in the eyes - many things and we still qualify. That is why I'm really proud of the players."

Tedesco was also keen to stress the competitiveness of Group E, but ex-England striker Alan Shearer described Belgium as "terrible" in Stuttgart.

Former England captain Wayne Rooney also told BBC One: "Belgium were very poor. If that's how they are moving forwards, then they have got no chance."

And with France up next, Portugal centre-back Jose Fonte thinks Belgium need to show huge improvements or they will go out.

"France will be a tough nut to crack," he added. "We know how good they are. I was very disappointed with Belgium.

"I was expecting much more willingness to try to win the game, play positive and happy football. They don't seem to enjoy playing with each other."