Clock Ticking on Belgium’s Golden Generation

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Belgium are top of the FIFA rankings and are well worthy of joint-favouritism for Euro 2020 - but can they deliver?

Belgium's superstar midfielder Kevin De Bruyne

Belgium got as close as to World Cup glory as they ever have in 2018 and enter Euro 2020 with sky-high expectations as the best crop of players the nation has ever produced look to live up to the hype.

This summer’s championships and the 2022 World Cup next year are likely the last opportunities Belgium’s ‘golden generation’ have to break the country’s duck on the big stage with many of the squad close to 30 or past that threshold.

Fortunately, head coach Roberto Martinez has this squad in fine form entering the Euros and they look worthy 5/1 joint-favourites on paper, particularly after being handed a kind draw for the group stages.

Red Devils Can Build on Russia Heartache

Belgium came away from the 2018 World Cup with a bronze medal, their best result at a tournament since finishing runners-up at the 1980 Euros. However, it could have been so much more for the Red Devils had they found a way past a functional France outfit in the semi-finals, failing to turn their possession into chances on that occasion.

Having so impressively ousted Brazil in the quarters in Russia, Belgium looked to have finally arrived as a force on the world stage, only to come up just short. That painful loss, coupled with the ticking of a countdown timer on many of this squad’s international careers, has spurred this team on though.

Since the France defeat, Belgium have played 25 times, winning 21 of those games and losing just twice. They blitzed qualifying for the Euros as they won 10 out of 10 games, scoring 40 goals in the process, while they have been sat at the top of the Fifa world rankings since 2019.

All that will count for little though if they can’t bring home the Henri Delaunay Trophy this summer as they gear up for their sixth appearance at a European Championship. Having finished second and third on their first two Euros appearances, they’ve not been beyond the quarter-final stage since, succumbing to Wales in the last eight in one of the shocks of the 2016 edition.

Familiar Foes Hold No Fear

Belgium will hope to avoid similar shocks when negotiating Group B at this summer’s tournament having been made overwhelming 20/29 favourites to win the group.

They open up with a trip to St Petersburg to face Russia, a team they handily beat twice during qualifying for the Euros, winning 4-1 at the Gazprom Arena when the two sides met in November 2019. They are 24/1 to repeat that scoreline, while a straight Belgium win is 20/27.

They follow that up with a clash against Denmark, again another opponent Martinez and co have easily swatted aside recently, winning both their Nations League encounters in 2020. The group stages conclude with a clash against wildcard Finland and it would be a major surprise if they hadn’t sewn up qualification for the last 16 by the time that match takes place.

KDB Still Belgium’s MVP

The pressure is certainly on Martinez and his squad to go deep into the Euros but they have got used to playing with that added weight upon their shoulders, something England’s own ‘Golden Generation’ never seemed to manage.

Martinez was seen as a strange choice for the head coaching post when he took charge in 2016 but has done well, albeit with a world-class squad that is the envy of many nations. The former Wigan and Everton boss has unsurprisingly settled upon attack being the best form of defence given the make-up of the squad, playing 3-4-3 or 3-4-2-1 in the majority of matches.

The beating heart at the centre of that system is Kevin de Bruyne, who does a similar job to the one he employs at Manchester City, pulling the strings behind the frontline. He was in a rich vein of form during the qualifiers, scoring four goals and recording six assists in his six appearances, and if he can stay fit, could be the one to power Belgium to glory.

De Bruyne supplies the bullets for all-time leading scorer Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard, who tend to operate up front in some capacity alongside Dries Mertens or Nacer Chadli. While Lukaku will enter the Euros as one of the front runners for the Golden Boot after a productive season with Inter Milan, netting 20 times in 26 appearances so far, there are major question marks over Hazard.

The former Chelsea superstar has been beset by injuries since moving to Real Madrid in 2019 and has made 13 appearances this season. When he has made it on to the pitch, Hazard has struggled to produce his best form, leaving Belgium hopeful he can flick a switch between now and June.

Hazard isn’t the only concern for Belgium though with their options in defence looking a little thin once you get past the first-choice crop. Strength in depth is not something Belgium have ever been blessed with and that hasn’t changed.

However, this is a squad that is now packed full of tournament experience and with enough world-class players still operating at the top of their game to be considered serious contenders. Anything other than a semi-final berth would have to be considered a disappointment for this silver-chasing ‘Golden Generation’.

*All odds correct at time of writing.

Chris is broadcast and written journalist with a wealth of experience, across a number of different sports. As well covering football on the radio, he is a regular online and print contributor on the likes of rugby union, American Football and Formula One.

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