Belgium dropped all three of their Tottenham players ahead of their World Cup match against Russia.
The Red Devils went on to beat Fabio Capello’s side 1-0 to book their place in the last 16, but rung the changes after their 2-1 victory over Algeria in their first match proved too close for comfort.
Spurs trio Jan Vertonghen, Mousa Dembele, and Nacer Chadli were all left out, with Belgian media criticising Tottenham for damaging their performances with a troubled season.
Former Ajax defender Vertonghen has spent much of his time at White Hart Lane at centre-back, but has often played at left-back for his country. However, he came under heavy fire after he gave away a penalty against Algeria that caused his side to go behind, and he was promptly punished with a place on the bench against Russia.
Likewise, Dembele and Chadli were slammed for not offering enough going forward in the first game, as it was left to Dries Mertens and Manchester United’s Marouane Fellaini – both of whom had come on as substitutes – to turn proceedings around.
Both scored, leading coach Marc Wilmots to reward them each with a starting berth. Vertonghen was eventually brought on as a substitute for Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen, his original replacement, who was forced off with injury.
Wilmots’ team selection will undoubtedly arouse concern, though, for new Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino, who has plenty of work to do if he is to improve on their sixth-place finish last time out.
Vertonghen’s decline is perhaps the biggest disappointment, and questions about his attitude continue, though he made a fantastic start to life in North London. With question marks over regular left-back Danny Rose, the Belgian would perhaps be most useful in that position, especially as Benoit Assou-Ekotto is looking increasingly unlikely to return to the club after a loan spell with QPR.
In what was to be a generally frustrating season for Spurs, their midfield Belgian duo both struggled because of the side’s failure to develop a fluid, or even consistent style of play that would allow them to create opportunities going forward. That may have been because of the decision to sack Andre Villas-Boas in December and replace him with novice Tim Sherwood, though the number of new arrivals at the club – including Chadli – also prevented them from gelling.
With a price tag of £7million, Chadli was far from the Lilywhites’ most expensive summer signing, but he came as part of a near £100million package that aimed at replacing Gareth Bale, a promise that was never really going to be lived up to.
All three have endured a difficult domestic season, and that is unlikely to help them perform on the biggest stage of them all.
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