Euro 2016: Time for Belgium to show they are contenders not pretenders
The golden generation of Belgium football looks to stamp their authority in Euro 16.
Every Sporting team goes through a phase when they have possibly the best group of talented players, an inspirational captain, a talented coach and a group of hardworking support staff. A grand performance on the world stage, and the team goes down in the history books and is remembered in their country‘s sports folklore as greats or legends.
Examples are galore of teams who followed this trend and most recent being the Spain football team which won the Euro 2008, followed it up with their maiden World Cup triumph in 2010 and then defended their European crown successfully in 2012. It was Spain‘s golden generation, led by the incomparable Iker Casillas and managed by the witty Vincent del Bosque which dominated world football for 6 years.
Now that Spain‘s golden generation approaches its twilight, Belgium look to take the center stage with their own golden generation.
Belgium have had a rough ride in terms of development as a footballing team. There were patches of brilliance at times, like defeating the then World Cup holders West Germany in 1954, and Brazil in 1963 in a friendly.
But, other than these Belgium never really managed to put any sustained performances of note. Their failure in major events was laughed at and they were given the mock title of “world champion of friendlies”.
The 80’s saw the first golden generation of Belgium football, as the team rose to prominence not only in Europe but also in World Football. Their performances improved as the Red Devils managed an impressive, second place finish in the 1980 European Championship, but still the team was not consistent and they were still largely considered as enigmas rather than a powerhouse.
The early 2000’s was a tough period for Belgium football, a lot of their veterans left and the team was in disarray. Performances dipped and they failed to qualify for 5 consecutive major finals, starting from Euro 2004 to Euro 2012. The future of Belgium football seemed dark.
Amid this doom and gloom, there appeared a ray of hope. A promising new generation of young footballers was leading the way for them. This young team managed an impressive fourth place finish in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and after this impressive show, seventeen of these youngsters were selected for the national team. Though there wasn’t any immediate success, the base for a glorious future was laid.
Marc Wilmots took over the role of first team coach in 2012 and final piece in the jigsaw of Belgium football was found. A youthful team combined with Wilmots’s tactical nuances qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup as unbeaten group winners. Their first World Cup appearance in over a decade‘s time.
The young Belgian team did not disappoint and were on a 4-game winning streak when they were stopped by Messi led Argentina in the quarter-finals. A defeat in the last eight stage did not deter or break this young Belgian side as impressive performances in the qualifying campaign for Euro 2016 saw them rise to Number 1 position in the official FIFA rankings by November 2015.
The “Golden Generation” as the foreign media has dubbed the current Football team, has captured the attention of everyone around the globe with their entertaining and attacking brand of football. It is nice to see a squad full of players in their mid-20s, winning matches for their country and transforming them to a footballing powerhouse.
They have not only done well with their national team but individually as well as at the club level. Eden Hazard had been a pivotal player for Chelsea in the 2014-15 title winning campaign; he was also named as the PFA Player of the Season for his performances. Kevin De Bruyne and Radja Nainggolan have also performed superbly for their respective clubs and the list goes on.
At Euro 2016, the “Golden Generation” of Belgium football has the opportunity to show the world that they are no enigmas but champions. This is the time for transition from pre- tournament favorites to Champions.