HistoryWe, the Kingdom of Belgium, are a tiny country in Western Europe with Brussels as its capital. Our modern name is derived from the Latin word “Belgium”, which was found in Julius Caesar's “Gallic Wars”, to describe the region in the period around 55 BCE.
Between the 16th and early 19th centuries we unfortunately served as the battleground between many European powers. This earned us the nickname of “the Battlefield of Europe", a reputation that got strengthened even more in the 20th century by both world wars. The country as we know it today emerged in 1830 following the Belgian Revolution, when we seceded from the Netherlands.
Belgium is probably best known for beer, chocolate, waffles and Jean-Claude van Damme, BUT you can very well add football to that list. Our Belgian national football team is known as “The Red Devils” and for starters there was Paul Van Himst, who was one of the best European football players in the 60’s and 70’s. He even played in a 1981 motion picture called “Escape to victory”, alongside Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, Bobby Moore... and Pelé!
(right) “Escape to victory” with Van Himst in front of Pelé
After that Van Himst era we experienced two solid golden generations with many gifted players. In the first period which lasted from the 1980s to the early 1990s, the team finished as runners-up at the 1980 Euros and fourth in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico! Some notable players from that era are excentric goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff, defensive powerhouse Eric Gerets, semi-wonderkid Enzo Scifo and attacking force and captain Jan Ceulemans.
“The Red Devils” just prior to losing to Diego Maradona’s Argentina in the semi final of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico
The second “golden years” period started slowly in the 2010s and is still going on as we speak! Under the guidance of current manager Roberto Martínez, our “Red Devils” topped the FIFA World Rankings for the first time in November 2015. The pinnacle of that period (so far…) is a 3rd place finish at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, after losing to future champions France in the semi-finals!
“The Red Devils” when finishing 3rd on the 2018 World Cup in Russia
Up until this day, Belgium is the only national team in the world to top the FIFA ranking without having won a World Cup or a European Championship trophy! But maybe this is all about to change in 2021, because although this generation has started to age somewhat...the current amount of individual talent in our national team is still ridiculous!
Belgium leading the FIFA men’s world ranking on May 27th 2021
He moved to Scottish side Motherwell, then to Walsall, before joining Swansea City in 2003. He became club captain and helped the team to win promotion to League One in 2005. He moved to Chester City in 2006 and was again chosen to be captain.
In 2007, he retired from playing to become manager of Swansea City, leading them to promotion from League One as champions. He then joined Wigan Athletic in 2009, helping the club avoid relegation for three consecutive seasons. In his fourth season Wigan were relegated, but won the FA Cup in 2013 for the first time in the club's history.
At the end of that season he became manager of Everton, but eventually he was sacked and became the successor of Marc Wilmots as Belgium's head coach on August 3rd 2016.
Martínez is often credited with establishing a possession-based style of play and he cites the philosophy of Johan Cruyff as an influence upon his managerial approach. Luckily, with a technically gifted squad like ours, that philosophy very often translates in nice victories and high level quality football!
THE TEAMThis is the Belgium’s registered team for the European Championship of 2020 (2021):
It is no secret that the majority of the current golden generation is starting to age. These Euros are even considered by some people to be the final tournament where we will have most of those players available, at least in their prime years.
Although a lot of young and talented guys are ready to make that step up, Martinez has mostly chosen the more experienced players to be part of the current selection. Jérémy Doku is basically the only player in that squad that we can consider to be part of the “next” generation.
However, if you look at the “Reserves” list you will see that we are more that set for the future! The likes of Vanheusden, Kana, Verschaeren, De Ketelaere & Saelemaekers are blessed with the heavy burden of treading in the footsteps of our current heroes, but hopefuly they can bring us as much joy and success as there predecessors did!
NOTABLE “GOLDEN GENERATION” PLAYERS IN THE SELECTIONThibaut Courtois
Thibaut Nicolas Marc Courtois (born 1992) plays as a goalkeeper for Spanish club Real Madrid and is considered by many to be one of the best goalkeepers in the world.
Courtois graduated through the youth system of Genk where he played a key role in the team's Belgian Pro League victory at age 18. In July 2011 he joined Chelsea but was immediately loaned to Atlético Madrid. In three seasons there, he won the Europa League in 2012, the Copa del Rey in 2013 and the La Liga title in 2014. He also won the Ricardo Zamora Trophy for best goalkeeper in La Liga, for his performances in his two latter seasons.
Courtois returned to Chelsea in July 2014, and in his first season he helped them win the League Cup and the Premier League title. Two years later, he won the Premier League Golden Glove as Chelsea again won the league. In 2018, Real Madrid signed Courtois for £35 million, becoming La Liga's most expensive goalkeeper, surpassing the record set by Jan Oblak. He won a second La Liga title and a third Zamora trophy in 2020.
Courtois made his senior international debut in October 2011, becoming the youngest goalkeeper to represent Belgium. He has since earned over eighty caps and appeared at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, UEFA Euro 2016 and the 2018 FIFA World Cup where he was awarded the Golden Glove as best goalkeeper of the tournament!
Kevin De Bruyne
Kevin De Bruyne (born 1991) plays as a midfielder for Premier League club Manchester City where he is vice-captain. Recognized for his exceptional passing, shooting and dribbling abilities, he is widely considered to be one of the best players in the world.
Like Courtois, De Bruyne began his career at Genk, where he was a regular player when they won the 2010–11 Belgian Pro League. In 2012, he first joined English club Chelsea until he signed with Wolfsburg for £18 million in 2014. At the German club he established himself as one of the best players in the Bundesliga and was integral in the club's 2014–15 DFB-Pokal win.
In the summer of 2015, De Bruyne joined Manchester City for a club record £54 million. He has since won three Premier League titles, five League Cups and an FA Cup with the club. In 2017–18, he had a significant role in Manchester City's record in becoming the only Premier League team to attain 100 points in a single season. In 2019–20, De Bruyne tied the record for most assists in a Premier League season and was awarded Player of the Season.
De Bruyne made his full international debut in 2010, and he has since earned 80 caps and scored 21 goals for Belgium. He was a member of the Belgian squads that reached the quarter-finals both at the 2014 FIFA World Cup and at UEFA Euro 2016. He also represented Belgium at the 2018 FIFA World Cup and was named in the Dream Team.
De Bruyne has received multiple individual awards throughout the years and has been named in many “Team of the Year” lists, in both the Bundesliga and the Premier League. He is even considered as a possible future winner of the Ballon d’Or in 2021!
The sight of a tearful De Bruyne departing the Champions League 2021 final early in the second half was a tough one to take for footballs fans everywhere, and hopefully his injuries will not be an issue at these Euros. Presuming he is fit, he is likely to be more driven than ever to guide us to the title. The rest of Europe has been warned!
Romelu Menama Lukaku Bolingoli (born 1993) plays as a striker for Serie A club Inter Milan and is considered by many to be one of the best target strikers in the world.
Born in Antwerp, Lukaku began his professional career at Belgian Pro League club Anderlecht in 2009, where he made his senior debut, at age 16. He won the league's top goalscorer, the league championship and the Belgian Ebony Shoe there.
He signed for English side Chelsea in 2011, but was loaned out to West Bromwich Albion and Everton. After helping Everton reach a club-record points tally, Lukaku joined the team in a permanent deal worth a club-record fee of £28 million in 2014.
After being named in the 2016–17 PFA Team of the Year, Lukaku signed for Manchester United in 2017, for an initial fee of £75 million. After two seasons in Manchester, Lukaku's relationship with the club deteriorated and eventually he signed for Inter Milan in August 2019, for a reported club record €80 million. He has won the Serie A title in his second season with the club and was named the league's Most Valuable Player.
Lukaku has played 91 games for our country and scored 59 goals, making him Belgium's all-time top goalscorer. Lukaku made his senior international debut for Belgium in 2010 at age 17, and has since represented Belgium at three major tournaments, including two FIFA World Cups and one UEFA European Championship. At the 2018 World Cup, Lukaku finished as the joint second-highest goalscorer and won the Bronze Boot.
POSSIBLE BREAKTHROUGH PLAYER : Youri Tielemans
Youri Marion A. Tielemans (born 1997) plays as a midfielder and playmaker for Premier League club Leicester City.
Tielemans began his career at Anderlecht where he made 185 official appearances and scored 35 goals across four seasons. He won the league title twice and in 2017 was chosen as the Belgian Professional Footballer of the Year.
He is the youngest Belgian to play in the UEFA Champions League, making his debut in the competition at the age of 16 years and 148 days.
After two years at Monaco in Ligue 1, he joined Leicester in 2019, initially on loan and then for an estimated fee of £32 million. He scored the only goal of the 2021 FA Cup Final.
Tielemans represented Belgium at several youth levels and before gaining his first cap for the national team in November 2016, aged 19. He was also part of the squad at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
After Leicester City failed to qualify for the Champions League in the 2020/2021 season, after losing to Tottenham, rumours started to pop up that Tielemans might leave the club in the upcoming summer transfer window.
A solid breakthrough performance on these Euros might prove to be the final push for top tier clubs to give this awesome player his biggest move to date!
SECRET WEAPON : Jérémy Doku
Jérémy Doku (born 2002) plays as a forward for Ligue 1 club Rennes.
He began playing football at a young age in Antwerp and eventually moved to Anderlecht in 2012 at the age of 10. He made his professional debut with Anderlecht at the age of 16 before eventually signing to French side Rennes for five years, a deal worth €26 million in addition to bonuses.
Doku was born in Belgium and is of Ghanaian descent. He represented the Belgium U17s at the 2018 UEFA European Under-17 Championship and made his first appearance for our national team on 5 September 2020 against Denmark in the UEFA Nations League. Three days later, he scored his first goal as a “Red devil” in a 5–1 win against Iceland.
With his fast and agile moves he is currently causing all kinds of havoc in the French top division and he is considered to be among the very best dribblers in that competition. This young man could very well be the extra threat that our national team will need in the latter stages of the tournament.
Of course this guy still has a lot of room to grow, but this tournament could be the ideal moment for him to step up and solidify his position in the future of Belgian football!
Let’s be honest here, Belgium simply have one of the best squads in the world to play possession based football. Combine this with the lethal cuts that inside forwards like Hazard, Carrasco & Mertens can make and that’s pretty much your main formation right there.
- Duo of ball playing defenders, not too high up because they do lack some pace
- Wing backs who use the entire wing for attacking overlaps
- Solid holding centre of midfield with a decent long shots threat
- Pivoting playmaker on the number 10 position in Hazard or De Bruyne
- Fast and agile inside forwards that stretch out the pitch, but constantly dive into gaps
- A physical beast up front in Lukaku as the main finisher
A possible deviation on this could be a safer approach against teams with pacey strikers, like France:
- Solid 3-man defence
- Witsel in a DM role to support that defence even more
- Duo of playmakers in midfield to quickly switch to attack mode
- Deadly winger driven counter attacks (that famous counter attack goal against Japan in 2018, check!)
- A false number nine for a better link between midfield and attack and for rebounds
- Lukaku using his physical strength to create space for himself and others
WHAT ARE THEIR CHANCES?Belgium have been drawn in a group where they can definitely be considered favourites, although they are basically playing both Denmark and Russia as an away game, with the games taking place in Copenhagen and St Petersburg.
Probably the main threat in this group is Scandinavian side Denmark. 10th on the FIFA world ranking as of today and equipped with a dangerous mix of experienced players (Schmeichel, Kjaer & Eriksen) and somewhat younger talent such as Christensen, Højbjerg & Dolberg. A lot is expected from this good generation of Danish players, so this opponent is not to be taken lightly!
Russia is currently 38th on the FIFA world ranking but don’t let that number fool you. The combination of good old Russian nationalism and a sense of playing “at home” in this tournament could mean trouble for their opponents in pretty much every game. Especially the two power houses up front in Dzyuba and (his successor) Sobolev could cause some actual damage when given to much space to unleash their power. A task for the aging Belgian defence to get that tight marking going!
Finland is considered to be the weakest team in this group, mainly because of only being 54th on the FIFA world ranking. Luckily for Belgium, the days of Finnish legend Jari Litmanen are long gone, but with upcoming winger Fredrik Jensen and natural goalscorer Teemu Pukki this team should not be taken for granted!
MY PREDICTIONOn the condition that key players like Witsel and De Bruyne are fit and ready to go, Belgium should easily qualify from this group stage. The main question is which teams we will be facing next, in those latter stages of the tournament. In my opinion France could be the only team where we would really struggle against, as we did at the last World Cup.
Since our “Red Devils” seem to be in the habit of stepping up their game when it matters most, I can see us go pretty far. Maybe with some luck in the draws, we could actually make it to the finals!
One thing I know for sure: the whole country will be watching - beer, waffles & chocolate in hand!
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