Belgium’s Golden Generation: Team of stars without titles

National Football Team have stars like Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard but no hardware

Selçuk Buğra Gökalp   | 17.10.2021
Belgium’s Golden Generation: Team of stars without titles File Photo


Looking at the national football team lists, any fan can conclude that Belgium is currently, and for some time, has one of the most powerful squads across the globe.

But when it comes to achievements, tangible success, Belgium has zero international trophies.

There are great expectations about Belgium -- a team made up of star players known as “The Golden Generation” for several years but their only tangible achievement was third place at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Even if their efforts did not fully materialize, Belgium had to make serious reforms and investments to create the star generation.

Reforms: First spark to Golden Generation

After the national team's elimination to eventual winner, Brazil, in the round of 16 at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, Belgium started serious reforms to their national football team.

Veteran players hanged their jerseys and the team required serious change.

In the coming years, several new players were called up to the squad but none became permanent nor offered Belgium the contribution needed for success.

Therefore, the team failed to qualify for the UEFA EURO 2004 and 2006 FIFA World Cup.

The first spark of change was the appointment of Michel Sablon as Belgian Football Director in 2006.

Sablon came with a solid plan to change the course of the national team.

The first step was to start extensive research regarding the youth team in countries, including Germany and The Netherlands.

A scientific approach was instilled in football academies and the primary goal of academies changed from winning matches to effectively raising young players.

Spreading and applying these changes to the nation’s football was challenging.

Sablon and his crew had been the target of a lot of criticism but the results soon started to show.

Belgium U-21 National Football Team, including players like Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen, Marouane Fellaini, Jan Vertonghen, Kevin Mirallas and Anthony Vanden Borre finished the 2008 Beijing Olympics in 4th fourth place, losing to Nigeria 4-1 in the semifinals.

'The Golden Generation' coming out

In 2008, several players on the national team started to make transfers to important leagues like the English Premier League.

Manchester City legend Vincent Kompany was the first big Belgian name to move to the Premier League as the club was sold to Abu Dhabi United Group and started to build a competitive squad by making big-name transfers in 2008.

Marouane Fellaini moved to Everton from Standart Liege in 2008 and Thomas Vermaelen transferred to Arsenal from Ajax in 2009.

When the 2014 FIFA World Cup European Qualifications came around, Belgium's new squad was nearly complete and they had their first challenge ahead.

The team, including players like Thibaut Courtois, Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen, Mousa Dembele, Axel Witsel, Marouane Fellaini, Eden Hazard, Kevin Mirallas, Kevin De Bruyne, Steven Defour and Romelu Lukaku had cruised to the qualifiers as they finished Group A in the first spot, undefeated.

The Golden Generation had not totally failed in their first international competition as they were able to reach the quarterfinals but a Lionel Messi-led Argentina knocked them out with a 1-0 victory in the semifinals.

In 2014, Belgium climbed to the fourth spot in FIFA World Rankings. One year later, they reached the top spot for the first time in history.

Staying hopeful despite failures

After making a name for themselves, Belgium was ready for their next challenge in the UEFA EURO 2016.

They qualified for the group stage and reached the round of 16, finishing Group E in the second spot behind Italy.

After beating Hungary 4-0 in the round of 16, the quarterfinal match against Wales seemed easy enough but Wales gave them quite a shock and eliminated Belgium 3-1.

After the EURO 2016 disappointment, Belgium was hopeful for the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup as most of the squad was in their prime and they had some of the most valuable players on the globe like Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku.

The Red Devils went through the group stage flawlessly and eliminated Japan 3-2 in the round of 16, before beating Brazil 2-1 in the quarterfinals.

Another team with their own Golden Generation, France, eliminated Belgium 1-0 and moved on to defeat Croatia 4-2 in the final and win the World Cup.

Belgium took on England in the third place match and managed to win their first-ever bronze medals in World Cup history with a 2-0 win before the final.

When the 2020 European Championship was on the horizon, The Devils had several veteran players with enough talent to carry the team to success.

The coronavirus pandemic affected the championship and postponed it to the summer of 2021 but Belgium stayed on track and reached the group stage.

The Red Devils went three for three in group stage matches and defeated then-champions Portugal 1-0 in the round of 16.

Unfortunately, Italy, the tournament winners, defeated Belgium 2-1 and the team had to again exit the championship in the quarterfinals.

The same year, UEFA organized another international tournament, UEFA Nations League, giving Belgium a chance to win something before the end of the year.

Belgium grabbed five wins in six matches and finished Group A2 in the top spot.

As the rule of the tournament, Belgium took on France in the semifinals and victory seemed near this time.

But in another heartbreak for Belgium fans, France took them out with a 3-2 win in the semifinals. France beat Spain 2-1 and won the trophy.

Belgium's future

Today Belgium has a squad valued at approximately €500 million and they are at the top of the FIFA World Rankings since 2018.

Even if many of The Golden Generation is now in their 30s, The Red Devils are still a very powerful team with a lot of potential.

Their squad includes players starting to enjoy their primes like Leicester City’s Youri Tielemans and Timothy Castagne and promising young talents like Charles De Ketelaere of Club Brugge and Yari Verschaeren of Anderlecht.

There is no doubt that Belgium will be one of the top contenders as players like Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard are still serious threats for opposition teams in the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup.​​​​​​​

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