Belgium: can Golden Generation win gold?

Having lived in Brussels and Antwerp for the last 6 years I have been witness to 2 fanatical summers where black, yellow and red flags are painted on the faces of men, women and children, crates of Jupiler become harder to find, and chants of ‘Waar is de Feestje?’ ring loud from the local bars.

It is easy to understand why there is this level of excitement.  The 2014 Brazil World Cup marked the Red Devils first international tournament appearance since the 2002 tournament in Japan and South Korea, but this time they travelled with a ‘Golden Generation’ of footballing talent.  Courtois, De Bruyne, Hazard, Vertonghen, Lukaku and Fellaini is not even an exhaustive list.  As a Scotland fan, I could only look on jealously.

Belgium occupied number 1 in the FIFA World Rankings from November 2015 to March 2016.  Consequently expectations have risen amongst the viewing public.  

However, many Belgians feel that the expectations are not being met.  Defeat to a less talented Wales team in a Euro 2016 Quarter-final was met with derision by Belgians.  Commentator Stephane Pauwels remarked “They played like Goats.  It is shameful.”

Frustration bubbled over in a September 1st 2016 2-0 friendly defeat to Spain, as Brussels booed loudly at their summer heroes who were completely outplayed holding only 37% possession.

Red Devils supporters are growing tired of the hype.  Will this Belgian team go on to win a big one?


How Belgium compares

Team Year Avg Caps Avg Age
Belgium 2016 32.17 25.95
Portugal 2016 36.91 27.86
France 2016 27.34 27.3
Germany 2014 42.21 25.73
Argentina 2014 32.21 28.52
Spain 2012 47.82 26.73
Italy 2012 27.73 27.91
Spain 2010 38.3 25.91
Netherlands 2010 35.91 27.65
Spain 2008 23.62 26
Germany 2008 36.08 26.78
Italy 2006 32.91 29.26
France 2006 38.82 27.47

Whilst a little on the young side, the Belgian side that lost at the quarter final stage of the European Championships compares well to finalists at major tournaments since 2006.

Team since 2012 Win % vs 1-10 Win % vs 11-20 Win % vs 21-40 Win % vs 41+
Belgium 33.34 71.42 62.5 80
Portugal 35.71 50 78.57 60.86
France 40 42.85 69.23 81.81
Germany 64.28 64.28 57.14 68.18
Argentina 57.89 81.81 63.63 75
Spain 66.67 58.82 66.67 96
Italy 31.81 36.36 41.66 70

Belgium has a poor 33.34% win rate against the top 10 teams in the World Rankings since 2012.  Wilmots won only 1 competitive match against a top 10 side – Croatia in 2013.  Consistently successful Spanish, German and Argentinian teams get the business done against other elite teams.


Will the Red Devils win a big tournament?

Belgian football journalist Sven Claes (@SvenClaes) doesn’t see success on the horizon.

“I don’t think we will win the Euros or World Cup soon.  There are always much better teams like Germany, Brazil and France.”

“Don’t forget the Belgian national football squad is always Dutch versus French speaking,” he explained.  “It is a divided country, so a divided team.  There are always issues with the team, for example, the fees of the portrait rights from Vincent Kompany’s agency.  Jealousy.  Hazard is captain and not De Bruyne – a true leader at City – or Vertonghen who has more caps.”

Brussels based ‘World Soccer’ writer John Chapman (@BelgoFoot) held similar thoughts.

“Based on the previous four years, I would not back Belgium to win a major tournament. Wilmots did not have the tactical nous and I am not convinced by Martinez.  Early days though. As for the players, there have been obvious problems such as a lack of full backs who can defend and the lack of a true international class striker,” John said.

“Some players are showing their age – Kompany, Vermaelen – while others have been somewhat over-hyped – Benteke, Fellaini and, I feel, Lukaku. The latter can score in the Premier League where he gets space but falls down on the international stage, especially in big games.”

Players like De Bruyne, Hazard, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Courtois and to an extent Nainggolan – are top class but I am not sure if Belgium has a real ‘team’ yet or a style of play.”


Early Days

John Chapman did however see some reason for optimism.

“I liked Martinez playing three at the back against Cyprus and it would be interesting to see against better opposition,” he explained.

“For the future, players like Tielemans, Thorgan Hazard and Charly Musonda could make a difference but there is still an alarming lack of full backs. I also like Sven Kums and he might get a look-in. Plus, a lot depends on Batshuayi/Origi  – if I am right about Lukaku.”


Something to prove

Martinez lost his job at Everton having failed to live up to the hype created by a cup win with an inferior Wigan team.  He now coaches a squad that also has something to prove.  Football commentators believe that the ‘Golden Generation’ will not bring success.

When Russia comes around they will have more experience, but they need to start winning the big games.

Martinez is at the start of his managerial reign and will need time to grow his ideas.  Can he overcome the cultural issues?  Can he manage the player personalities?  Can he remedy the full back problem?

If Martinez can do this then perhaps the “Golden Generation” can win gold.


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