When Belgium took the field against Italy during Euro 2016, Thibaut Courtois became the first Belgian to tend goal at a European Championship in sixteen years. He was following in the footsteps of Eric Deflandre. If that name does not ring the same kind of bell, even among goalkeeping aficionados, that the names of legendary Belgian goalies like Jean-Marie Pfaff and Michel Preud’homme do, it might be because Deflandre was in fact a full-back. He was a fine one at that, earning 57 caps at right-back for Belgium and winning the French league three times in a row with Lyon. But his true five minutes of fame came when the Red Devils experienced a night in purgatory as their Euro 2000 dreams turned into a nightmare.
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|Courtois will likely be a little more pleased to be putting on the gloves|
It had all started so well for Belgium, who were the tournament’s co-hosts (along with the Netherlands). They had beaten Sweden in their first group match, and even though they had lost to later finalists Italy in their second match, the Red Devils only needed a draw against Turkey in their final group match to go through to the second round. Sadly for Belgian fans and players alike, Euro 2000 wasn’t exactly turning out to be Belgium goalkeeper Filip De Wilde’s finest hour. The 36-year old had amassed a ton of experience during his long career, including playing at the 1998 World Cup and in the 1990 Cup Winners’ Cup final. Before the tournament, De Wilde may well have secretly harbored dreams of how a strong showing at this home European Championship might earn him the kind of universal respect that his predecessors Preud’homme and Pfaff had enjoyed, but that had always eluded him.
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|Filip De Wilde contemplates how it could have all gone so wrong|
Instead, the pressure got to him. Things had first started to unravel for De Wilde against Sweden. With Belgium comfortably leading 2-0, a botched attempt to control a back pass let the Swedes back into the game. The game ended 2-1 so there were no consequences to the goalie’s blunder. That wasn’t the case when a completely mistimed jump in the crucial game against Turkey allowed Turkish striker Hakan Sukur to score the opening goal on the verge of half time. It left Belgium chasing an equalizer, only to have the Turks score a second goal on the break. With about five minutes of regular playing time left, De wilde underlined the torrid time he had been having of it, by sprinting far outside of his penalty area to intercept a through ball. True to his form that tournament, he arrived late and ended up torpedoing a Turkish forward.
A red card was duly shown, and as De Wilde’s 33-cap international career came to an ignominious end, it was left to Deflandre to put on the goalkeepers gloves. And for sixteen years, he would be the last Belgian to do so at a European Championship.