New Delhi: For the match against Ukraine, Belgium took to the field wearing a sky-blue shirt and brown shirts, an away kit inspired by Tintin. It was hoped that the character’s adventurous spirit would inspire the team at Euro 2024. But for most of the first half, most fans of the Red Devils would have simply been screaming ‘Blistering barnacles’, ‘Cabbage heads’ or a bunch of other swear words in what would have been a nod to another beloved Tintin character, Captain Haddock.

Ukraine’s Heorhiy Sudakov shoots at goal in a Euro 2024 Group E match against Belgium in Stuttgart on Wednesday. (REUTERS)

The match ended in a goalless draw – it allowed Belgium to finish second in the group, knocking Ukraine out – but a substantial number of Belgium fans were booing their own team at the end.

Get ready to catch the final stages of the World Cup only on Crickit. Anytime, Anywhere. Explore now!

Going into the match, Group E was the tight affair. All teams were on three points but Ukraine, on account of their poor goal difference, needed a win to advance. This is why Ukraine manager Serhiy Rebrov chose to go with two strikers as against the one we saw in their previous two games.

This move signalled intent but it also meant that Ukraine were looking to commit more men to attack. This was something Belgium’s star-studded line-up would be looking to exploit and they almost did that in the seventh minute when Kevin De Bruyne slipped a pass in behind for Romelu Lukaku, who had sprinted to the edge of Ukraine’s six-yard box.

The big striker got to the ball before Anatolii Trubin but scuffed his shot, allowing the goalkeeper to make an easy save. It proved to be Belgium’s only decent chance of the first half.

No player has registered more shots on target in this tournament than Romelu Lukaku (6). But he is still waiting for the first goal.

Belgium had more of the ball but Ukraine, slowly but surely, started to find their feet. They were still not able to play their preferred possession game but they were getting the better chances and looked more likely to score.

And this was despite De Bruyne seeing a lot of the ball. In the first 40 minutes, he had 45 touches – the most of any player from either side – but it was still not working. Rather, with the Belgium skipper refusing to drop back to defend, there was a gap for Ukraine to exploit and they did that.

Belgium’s wingers, usually so dangerous, were restricted and Ukraine were the happier team at half-time but a goal had eluded them.

The second-half saw more of the same. Belgium unable to figure things out and Ukraine going forward, creating chances, but unable to score.

They came closest in the 82nd minute. Ruslan Malinovsky whipped the corner in, low and sharp, almost catching the Belgium goalkeeper Koen Casteels out. But he reacted just in time to prevent the goal. As replays later showed, it was a matter of millimetres.

By this point, Belgium almost seemed to be playing for a draw. It would be enough for them to advance and they knew it. But is this how the world’s third best team should be playing?

Georgiy Sudakov had another chance late but he hit it straight at the goalkeeper. Perhaps, placement rather than power might have done the trick.

An increasingly desperate Ukraine kept throwing men forward. It was a win or nothing to them and they gave it a solid shot but they just were unable to breakdown the Belgian defence.

The game stats will show that it was a close game but Ukraine had the better chances and by the end, frustration was writ large on their faces.

The first game, when they lost 3-0 to Romania, was a shocker for Ukraine and they paid the price in the last one. Ukraine become the first team in Euros history to go out at the group stages despite having four points.

Belgium had not lost their final group game in any of their last six appearances at a major tournament and they have kept that run going. But they will run into France next and that is never easy.

The Red Devils will have to rethink their approach and certainly have to find a way to inject more energy into their play. No team wants to be booed by its own fans but that just might shake them out of their stupor. But then maybe, it won’t.