Qatar World Cup: Belgium says goodbye to its golden generation
A lot of controversies are surrounding the upcoming World Cup in Qatar. But despite the criticism about the country’s human rights record and tolerance of members of the LGBTQ+ community, the prestigious football competition will still take place as planned.
For Belgium, this tournament will have a special meaning. Football fans regard the Qatar World Cup as the last chance for success for the Belgian golden generation. That generation brought forth many world-class players over the past decade but is now on the decline.
The Netherlands has traditionally been the best team in the Benelux. The country appeared in three FIFA World Cup Finals and won the 1988 European Championship in West Germany. But the balance of power shifted in favour of Belgium after a 4-2 win against its eternal rival in 2012.
Belgium took the footballing world by storm. The world’s best clubs paid record-breaking transfer fees. With Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard, two Belgians are among the ten biggest transfers of all time.
The results on the pitch drastically improved too. In 2014, the Red Devils managed to qualify for a FIFA World Cup for the first time in 12 years. Two years later, they attended the UEFA European Championship in France. Belgium had not qualified for a European Cup since 2000, a tournament that it co-hosted with the Netherlands.
The Belgian national team has managed to reach the quarter-finals in every tournament since. Their consistency was rewarded with the number one spot on the FIFA ranking for over three years. Belgium is currently ranked second, after Brazil.
The Belgium national team's best result came at the World Cup in 2018. There the Red Devils beat Brazil and suffered a narrow defeat against world champion France. Belgium eventually secured third place after winning the loser’s final against England, a first in the country’s history.
But the signs of decline keep getting harder to ignore. Belgian fans had high hopes for the UEFA Euro 2020, but the Red Devils underperformed. Since their victory over Portugal at last year’s European Cup, Belgium has lost every game against an opponent in the FIFA top 10 - France, twice against the Netherlands and twice against Italy.
Various members of the golden generation have already ended their national careers. Vincent Kompany, Steven Defour and Thomas Vermaelen are now employed as trainers. Nacer Chadli, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, all former players of the Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur, are now playing in the humble Belgian competition.
The players that are still part of the Red Devils are also nearing the end of their careers. Kevin De Bruyne and Thibault Courtois, both considered the best players in the world in their position, are now in their 30s. Eden Hazard is a shadow of his former self and all-time high scorer Romelu Lukaku struggles with a hamstring injury. The Red Devils will also be the oldest squad at the Qatar World Cup, with an average age of 27,8.
The losses against the Netherlands might be the most telltale signs of Belgium’s decline. Ten years after the golden generation took over the reins in the Benelux, the Dutch squad stunned the Red Devils with a 1-4 defeat. An early exit in Qatar would cement the end of Belgium’s status as a football superpower.
During a press conference in Brussels, Eden Hazard spoke candidly about the state of the national team. "I said earlier that it is somewhat normal for people to doubt me. The same goes for the squad. Romelu Lukaku has been struggling with injuries lately, we peaked in 2018, and the defence is getting older... But the whole group is keen to show that it's not over yet. This might be our last chance.”
© BELGA PHOTO VIRGINIE LEFOUR