Belgium Football: The rise of a new powerhouse
The World Cup qualifiers in Europe have always been centered on the regular European powerhouses, with the other teams always looking for the fringe spots here and there. But the trumpets have been blown for a dark horse, Belgium, a bright young team that is starting to announce its presence in Europe. Already joint leaders of Group A, they are in a prime position to qualify.
Other than the aforementioned players, Belgium also have good players to strengthen the squad.
Defence: Van Buyten (Bayern Munich), Lombaerts (Zenit)
Midfield: Kevin de Bryune (Chelsea, loaned to Werder Bremen), Steven Defour(Porto)
Attack: Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea, loaned to West Brom)
What does stand out about their team is the sheer number of them who play in the English Premier League. The Belgians have invaded the English shores, yet it is the sheer quality of the arrivals, not just the quantity, that takes the breath away. The Belgian daily newspaper La Dernière Heure calculated that, in terms of transfer fees, the Belgium starting XI that played a friendly against Holland last year was, at €180m, the third most expensive national team in the world, behind only Brazil and Portugal – and that was before a few other big moves.
The key men
The main strength of this team lies in its midfield, which boasts the likes of Moussa Dembele and Marouane Fellaini, who can easily boss the midfield with their physical strength and great technique. On the wings, they have Kevin de Bryune, the in-form player from Werder Bremen and Kevin Mirallas, already a hit in Everton. One player who stands out in this team very easily is – Eden Hazard. He has helped Lille to a league title already and has made a name for himself as the next Cristiano Ronaldo of the EPL. For Belgium to stand on at least equal footing with the likes of Germany and Spain, Hazard will certainly turn out to be the wild card that can change matches.
While there is a lot of optimism in the team, the key point is that they do not have the necessary roots to sustain this development. For a national team to have a long spell of success, they always need a strong domestic league, or at the very least a good base of youth academies. Yes, there have been some good investments for that, but the reality remains that a number of players of this ‘Golden Generation’ emerged via youth academies of other countries. Hazard, Vermaelen, Dembele and Mirallas, all come under this category. For the Golden Generation to continue its roll, Belgium needs to invest strongly in their youth academies at the very least.
Having qualified for the Euros just once since 1984, (as co-host in 2000) and having failed to reach the last two World Cups, the drought appears to be over. In a group that includes Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Wales and Scotland, the Belgians know that a place in Rio is within reach. A new generation of footballing stars are quietly making their mark on European football. As these starlets continue to develop, it’s clear that it won’t be long before Belgium are playing in the same league as the top guns around.