Because this is a World Cup year, I have decided to countdown to the tournament by providing a short soccer/fitness related preview of each of the 32 participating nations. In this installment, I will look at the Belgium, a team that many in the media have dubbed as a dark horse to win the tournament this year. Belgium have been drawn in Group H, which includes South Korea, Russia, and Algeria, and they play their first match against Algeria on June 17th.
The reason that Belgium has been picked as a potential favorite to win the World Cup this year is that the team presently includes several star quality players in their mid-to-late 20’s, who also happen to be in the peak of their careers and plying their trade for some of Europe’s top clubs. Among them are:
- Vincent Kompany (28 years old, Manchester City, England)
- Thomas Vermailen (28 years old, Arsenal, England)
- Marouane Fellaini (26 years old, Manchester United)
- Stephen Defour (26 years old, Porto, Portugal)
- Romelu Lukaku (21 years old, Everton, England)
- Eden Hazard (23 years old, Chelsea, England)
- Dries Martens (27 years old, Napoli, Italy)
These players have been called Belgium’s “Golden Generation”, as they have been together in the Belgian youth national teams for the past 8-10 years. The label of “Golden Generation” has been given to many different teams in the past 20 years. One key measure of the validity of the “Golden Generation” label for European teams, is how much success they have achieved at the UEFA U21 European Championship, a showcase for the top young players and teams in the continent, held every 2 years. Sometimes, in the case of the Italian team of the late 1990’s / early 2000’s (winners of the UEFA U21 Championship in 1998, again in 2004, and the FIFA World Cup in 2006), the label is fitting, because the team has had success with a core group of youth players who eventually had similar success at the highest level. In other cases, such as the England team of the 2000’s, the label of “Golden Generation” was given to a team that, while they did have a talented core group of players who had been together for over a decade, had not actually won any trophies, either at the youth or senior levels.
In Belgium’s case, the present “Golden Generation” has had some reasonable success, getting to the semi-finals of the 2007 UEFA European Championship, losing to eventual winners Serbia, and with a team featuring Lukaku, Hazard, Defour and Fellaini. They were also extremely dominant in qualifying for this year’s World Cup, topping a group that included Croatia, Serbia, and Scotland, and going undefeated in the process. If the new crop of star players is truly deserving of their “Golden Generation” title, they will need tom prove it by winning some gold at the senior level at the World Cup this year. We will have to wait and see what happens in 2 weeks’ time.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.