Belgium needed their ‘X factor’ substitutions to save them against Denmark and book their place in the last 16 of Euro 2020 after being “put to the test” for the first time in a while.
The top-ranked side in the world were deservedly behind at the break on an emotional evening as 25,000 fans at Parken Stadium paid tribute to Christian Eriksen, who is recovering from a cardiac arrest.
‘I was looking for the X factor’
De Bruyne came on at half-time and turned the game around, in his first appearance since suffering a fractured nose and eye socket in May’s Champions League final.
He set up the equaliser with a brilliant and unselfish touch to beat two defenders before laying the ball on a plate for Thorgan Hazard.
Manchester City midfielder De Bruyne then fired in an excellent winner after a nice pass from fellow star substitute Eden Hazard, Thorgan’s brother.
Real Madrid’s Hazard and De Bruyne (nine and eight assists respectively) have now set up more goals in major tournaments since 2014 than any other European players.
“Wow. I was looking for X factor and boy did Belgium deliver that,” said ex-England international Karen Carney on BBC Radio 5 Live.
“The big players at the big moments stepped up. That is the difference of world class players. They have the composure and calmness.
“The second half is just a case of bringing on quality in De Bruyne – big players just make such a difference. I can’t praise the tactical, swift change from Martinez enough. That was the game of the tournament.”
Belgium booked their place in the last 16 thanks to the win, despite only having six shots to Denmark’s 21.
‘He can get to Ronaldo & Messi levels’
Romelu Lukaku, who scored twice as Belgium beat Russia 3-0 in their opening game, was involved in the build-up for both goals – and was named Uefa’s man of the match.
Former Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere told BBC Radio 5 Live: “All the teams with a chance of winning have that player like Lukaku. He wants to get better and is still young enough to get to the levels of Ronaldo and Messi.”
On BBC One, ex-England captain Alan Shearer said: “Belgium were down and out until they came on at half-time. They completely changed the game.”
Former Netherlands and Chelsea striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, talking about De Bruyne’s assist, said: “What a player. He is so calm, always in control. I’m not passing that.”
The Belgians had trailed to Yussuf Poulsen’s strike after just 99 seconds, the second quickest European Championship goal ever.
BBC Radio 5 Live commentator Conor McNamara said: “The greatest credit you can pay Belgium is they they played against a 12th man.”
‘We were always one step behind’
Several of Belgium’s players as well as the manager spoke about how difficult they found the game afterwards.
Defender Jan Vertonghen said: “In the first half we were unrecognizable. We were always one step behind, it seemed. But then De Bruyne, Axel Witsel and Eden Hazard came on which just changed the game. They bring extra quality, we don’t have to tiptoe around that.”
Boss Martinez said: “It’s been a while since we’ve last been put to the test like this. The first half the players seemed shell shocked but they have the experience to turn a game around.”
Inter Milan striker Lukaku said: “We played dramatic, me included. We have to be honest about that. We didn’t bring the quality that was expected from us but we also shouldn’t be too negative.”
De Bruyne spoke about his muted celebration for his goal.
“I was happy, of course, but I respect people here too much,” he said. “I went to the part of the pitch where Eriksen collapsed on Saturday and I stayed calm.”