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FIFA World Cup 2022: The demise of the Belgium golden generation, how it ended?

Belgium

The Belgium football fraternity will be feeling a lot of pain after yesterday. It was not just because of their premature exit from the World Cup, but also for a possible end of an era, which was dubbed the Golden Generation of Belgian football.

A squad consisting of Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Jan Vertonghen, Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois- the quintet are five of the top global footballers in the modern era. But the end of their campaign may well see the end of this unit playing together for the Red Devils at the international stage.

What Happened?

Belgium were ousted from the World Cup after their goalless draw against Croatia on Thursday. Striker Romelu Lukaku missed glaring opportunities to win the game, but failed to do so as they make a return home from Qatar.

The Golden Generation and their achievements:

2014 World Cup: Belgium's Golden generation embarked to the global stage in the 2014 World Cup. That had the likes of Hazard and De Bruyne just approaching the peak of their career. Eden Hazard was 23, Kevin De Bruyne was 22 and Romelu Lukaku was 21. The nation was in hope that even if they don't lift the World Cup now, they surely will in the coming years. They also had the likes of Adnan Janujaz, Divock Origi who were just breaking through to the centre stage. Belgium did well in the group stage and finished top of their group, winning all the matches. They then went on to beat Russia in the last 16, but failed to Argentina in the quarterfinals.

2016 Euros: The squad was ripe, oozing with talent and class. They lost their opening group match against Italy but followed that up with two wins to qualify for the knockouts. In the round of 16 match, they blew away Hungary 4-0 as there of their youngsters Michy Batshuayi, Eden Hazard and Yannick Carrasco all scored. But they fell short again in the quarterfinals, this time at the hands of Wales. Even after taking the lead, the Red Devils faltered and suffered a 3-1 defeat against the Cymru to bow out of the Euros.

2018 World Cup: Perhaps the greatest achievement, or the closest to glory came in this tournament. Belgium crossed the first hurdle of group stages and then had a match with Japan for the last 16 stage. They were on the brink of defeat as the Blue Samurai were leading 2-1 with 20 minutes to go, but Marouane Fellaini equalized and then Nacer Chadli went on to score a 94th-minute winner to give them a monumental win. In the quarterfinals, they met Brazil and won the match 2-1. The nation was erupting as they were in the semifinals. The exuberance of the youth and the blend of experience with that made them the team to beat as they confirmed a date with France. The expectations were massive, but the Red Devils came short yet again, this time a Samuel Umtiti goal denied them from their first World Cup final.

They managed a 2-0 win in the 3rd place match against England but who cares that!

2020 Euros: The young crop of 2014 was at its peak in the Euros last year. Some were beyond the peak and some were just at the wrong side of their career, but still they had enough artillery to assert their authority in the tournament. In the round of 16 round, Belgium went on and beat the defending champions Portugal 1-0. Eden Hazard's brother Thorgan took the centre stage and scored the winner. Then quarterfinals approached. Belgium had a date with Italy at the Allianz Arena in Munich. Nicolo Barella and Lorenzo Insigne put daggers in the Belgian hearts as Italy went up 2-0 ahead, and despite Romelu Lukaku's penalty, Belgium couldn't score again in the entire second half and bowed out of another tournament again, with nothing to show for.

Romelu Lukaku

2022 World Cup:

And then came the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The squad was aged, most of the young players approaching the early 30s and beyond, but still there was hope that the experience of the previous editions will carry them forward. But it wasn't the case. Belgium won their first match against Canada, but then suffered a shock defeat at the hands of Morocco.

After the match, Kevin De Bruyne accused the age of their defenders and said that may well come and bite them in their quest for World Cup glory.

"We have a good team, but it is ageing. We lost some key players. We have some good new players coming, but they are not at the level other players were in 2018. I see us more as outsiders," De Bruyne said.

Defender Jan Vertonghen followed up with a dig to his teammate after the loss at the hands of Morocco.

"I guess we attack badly because we are also too old up front," Vertonghen said on his reply.

There were reports of unrest between Kevin De Bruyne and Thibaut Courtois due to their past personal issues as well. All in all, Roberto Martinez couldn't control the mess of his disciples in Qatar. And in the final match, Romelu Lukaku missed inexplicable chances to win the match for the Red Devils, piling on even more misery.

Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard will be 35, Thibaut Courtois will be 34 and players like Axel Witsel, Youri Tielemans and others will be also beyond the third decade or close to that of their life if they qualify for the 2026 World Cup. The arithmetic of ages will be even more blatant if these sets of players sing the national anthem for Belgium in four years' time at a World Cup match in USA/Mexico/Canada.

Roberto Martinez, who stepped down as Belgium's boss after the Croatia draw, said that the Golden Generation is still not a matter of past in Belgian football.

"The golden generation is doing something that is bringing the next generation on. It's not only what they're doing on the pitch. The legacy can be left in many ways," he said after confirming his departure.

Yes, there may be new players who will don the Red jersey in the future, the likes of Jeremy Doku, Amadou Onana, Albert Sambi Lokonga and others are supposed to continue the Belgian uprise. But there is no doubt the generation that ignited many dreams, is leaving with empty hands.

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Story first published: Friday, December 2, 2022, 15:05 [IST]
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