Belgium’s Golden Generation’s last hurrah
The 2022 World Cup in Qatar will be Belgium’s Golden Generation’s last hurrah at the global event, as only nine of their 26-member squad will be under thirty years of age at the 2026 World Cup in the USA, Canada, and Mexico. Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Axel Witsel, Romelu Lukaku, and Thibault Courtois will all be in their mid-to-late thirties in four years. They may still have a shot at Euro 2024, but it would be with depleted troops.
The current team, coached by Spaniard Roberto Martinez, has yet to win a major international trophy and even though they seem to improve a bit with each outing they are rarely among the top four or five teams at the tourney’s end save in 2018. Since September of 2020, in the Red Devils’ 33 competitive matches, they have lost twice to Italy and the Netherlands and once each to England and France while beating England, Portugal, and Denmark, a 3-6 record against teams in the top 10 rankings by FIFA but who are all ranked below Belgium.
It almost seems as if this Belgian Golden Generation crumbles at the big tournaments, performing well at but a couple of games and falling when the crucial match comes up, the match which would propel them to a semi-final or final of a Euro or World Cup. Their last two big matches, a win over Brazil in the Quarterfinals in Russia 2018, and over Portugal in the Round of 16 of Euro 2020 (played last year) were 1-0 victories wherein they converted a single opportunity while their opponents created many more but were unfortunate not to score themselves. But for those two one-of goals the Red Devils might have choked in both matches.
As of today, the team boasts arguably the best all-around offensive midfielder in the world in Kevin de Bruyne, the best keeper in Thibaut Courtois, and a handful of the better defenders, midfielders, and strikers on the globe. Martinez is considered a world-class coach and though the Royal Belgian Football Federation, a founding member of both FIFA and UEFA, has not had a master plan for national player and team development it has always encouraged and supported Belgian club efforts to give their emerging talents every opportunity to develop even if it meant the majority of the national team “grew up at school or abroad.”
Martinez has been at the helm for the majority of the time the Red Devils have been playing at their highest level, and he feels they have the potential to go far, but at almost every big turn something seems to go awry and the response is predictably repetitive—”we have to learn from this and now know what to work on.”
What is lacking now, for Belgium’s Golden Generation to make its mark indelible, is a seven-game run wherein the team’s form and momentum increase rather than dissipate as the going gets rougher. There is no doubt the upcoming cup is set up perfectly for the Belgians—a marginally tough group followed by an immediate clash with one of the teams in the second tier of cup favorites, then three successive games against probably the third, second, and top favorites in order to win the cup. This could be the dream cup for the Red Devils, all they have to do is rise to the occasion…successively.