Ninety minutes after the Euro 2000 opening ceremony, Belgium celebrated its first victory, defeating Swede 2-1 on Saturday in Brussels.
But soon after the final whistle, a big question mark arose over on Emile Mpenza’s spectacular goal which helped Belgium to conquer their visitors - it should it have been allowed or not?
After 38 seconds of the second period Mpenza received a flick ball from his teammate Branco Strupar, delivered the ball swiftly under control and blasted it into the roof of the net, putting home on 2-0.
Mpenza, whose speed and skills brought him the title man of the match, was certain that he had done nothing wrong, “I do not think I handed the ball.”
The day was not totally for Belgium, when Filip De Wilde, the Belgium goalkeeper endured one of the worst moments of his footballing career after his schoolboy error nearly cost them victory over Sweden.
In the 53rd minute, De Wilde prepared to collect a long distance back-pass on the left side of his penalty area from defender Philippe Leonard.
But instead of clearing immediately, the Anderlecht keeper put his foot on the ball, lost his balance and fell over, allowing Sweden's Johan Mjallby to steer it home into an open goal.
Fortunately for the goalkeeper, who partly redeemed himself with saves from Fredrik Ljungberg and Mjallby, that was the end of the scoring and the Belgians prevailed at 2-1.
De Wilde, who turns 36 next month, admitted, as he was quoted by AFP as saying "I lived through one of the worst half-hours of my career as a footballer.
"I really would have had it in for myself if we hadn't won. And because of that, I did everything I could to stay absolutely fully concentrated."
But he conceded: "It was difficult.
"Even though Philippe's pass was a tricky one to handle, I am totally responsible for the poor control of the ball and for letting our opponents back into the match."
When there were only two minutes from the first half, Midfielder Bart Goor snatched the ball from the visitors’ defender and scored the first goal of the championship.
Victory for the Red Devils gives them a clear chance of reaching the quarter-finals along with Group B favorites Italy, who face Turkey on Sunday and the Belgians on Wednesday.
Defeat for Sweden, meanwhile, was a body blow and made a mockery of their qualifying record, which saw them reach these finals without losing a match and conceding only one goal along the way.
"I won't deny that the result gave me greater pleasure than the way we played," said Belgian coach Robert Waseige. "I won't surprise you if I say it's an excellent result for us, given that it wasn't quite achieved the way we hoped it would," he said.
"We don't have the right to put ourselves back into a stressful situation the way we did. But that's football."
Waseige, who has transformed Belgium since taking over last year, then revealed his side's dressing-room approach.
"We got a result in several of the eight friendly matches we've played since August 1999," he declared. "But we said to ourselves 'now the laughing has to stop, today it's the result that counts'.”
Sweden's joint coach Lars Lagerback said: "I think we started pretty good and created some chances, and after that we didn't manage to play our normal game."
And he added: "Obviously, the two goals came at a very psychological time for us - at the end of the first half and at the start of the second."
Looking ahead, Lagerback said: "Of course, a squad is tested a little bit more when you're starting with such a result. It's also the first defeat we've had in a competition game since we started with this national team.
"We have to overcome this," he said. "It could be a little mental thing for the next 24 hours but the players have already promised each other that we will re-start. So I'm positive,” – Albawaba.com
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)