Dubai: They’re rated as the number one team in the world and have a squad overflowing with talent which is why many believed Belgium could go all the way at Euro 2020.
Having comfortably come top of their group without really breaking sweat and with many feeling a lot more would come from them, they were sent packing by Italy last night in the quarterfinal. And truth be told, they flattered to deceive somewhat in the tournament.
Luck of the draw
Sure, they arrived with several injuries to key players including Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard but others stepped up to ensure they made the knockouts. I guess the luck of the draw worked against them because the Italians really look like being the outright winners. Many felt these two would be in the final - but then, had Belgium played last night like it was the final, which is how their mindset should have been, they still fell short.
Now, you have to begin to wonder if the chance is gone for their golden generation to leave their mark on the international stage. With the wealth of riches available to coach Roberto Martinez, it feels like an unsatisfactory end to their tournament and questions are being asked whether or not several of the high-profile stars will be in the squad for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. It isn’t that far away and so perhaps wholesale changes are not needed in midfield or attack but at the back they desperately need younger, faster and fitter players to replace both Varmaelen who is 35 and Vertonghen who is 34. In fact, just two of their starting line-up are under the age of 28. Witsel, Chadli and Mertens are all in the autumn of their careers while 30-year-old Hazard has been plagued by injuries for the last two seasons and just isn't the same player he was for Chelsea.
Is this it?
Belgium finished third at the 2018 World Cup but have not even managed to make it to the semis this time. In fact, Euro 80 remains their only final which they lost against West Germany. So, is this it for them? De Bruyne is 30 and is still their best player. He came close to breaking the deadlock in the first half but saw his well struck effort pushed away by Donnarumma but they seemed overly reliant on the midfielder to make something happen. He set up Lukaku in the second half and he ought to have buried it from 3 yards but saw his shot blocked by Spinnazola. As we know, football is a game of fine margins and the result could well have been different had Belgium tucked away their chances. We would have been praising the side and tipping them to win it.
But the fact is they have failed again and there can’t be too many more chances for the more experienced players to prove themselves on the big stage. The World Cup is 18 months away, and that will be the last chance the golden generation has to lift a trophy. By then, the team should be built around the likes of Doku, Tielemans and Carrasco and Castagne, all good players, but a bigger concern is if The Red Devils will still have the in-demand Martinez to guide them.