It is a strange, but consistent phenomenon that Nations produce players of outstanding quality in cycles. In the 1990's it was Germany and France, as we find with Spain currently. What tends to happen is that such hegemonies are underlined by a splurge of talented players unravelling. This serves to spike belief and progress in the National game, that culminates in triumph at Club and international tournaments. Such epochs come to an end when the production line of talented players starts to run dry. Spain shall find out in due course that mortals do not defy this gravity. And perhaps, one nation revving itself up for an assault on Spain's dominance is Belgium. It is arguable that bar Spain, Belgium currently have the biggest collection of quality players, or would you rather say, of potential..... ?
TOURNAMENT PEDIGREE : Belgium provided one of the biggest upsets in the modern era, when they defeated (then) World champions, Argentina 1-0 in the opening game of the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain. An Argentine team that had a Certain Diego Maradona, Mario Kempes ( top scorer at the 1978 world cup finals ) and the formidable Daniel Passarella. That has to rank as Belgium's biggest claim to fame in International Soccer. It would not surprise you if i said Belgium qualified for every edition of the world cup over a twenty year period ( 1982 - 2002 ) They peaked in the 1986 edition of the World Cup finals, reaching the semi-finals, only to be unpicked by Diego Maradona's virtuoso performance.
Belgium had household names in their ranks such as Jean Marie Pfaff, Francois van der Elst, Eric Gerets, Ludo Coeck, Frankie Vancauteren, Jan Cullermans, Enzo Scifo, e.t.c in a remarkable era between 1982 and 1986..... Belgian Coaches like Raymond Goethals and Guy Thys were renowned. In all, they have graced 11 of the 19 World Cup finals. They have participated in four European Championships ( including as co-hosts in 2000 ) that was 1972, 1980, 1984, and 2000 editions. In 1980, they were runners-up to Germany.
DROUGHT : If Belgium had a boom of star name players in the 1980's, they certainly experienced a bust in the last two decades. They practically produced zero players of star attraction in this period. It is little surprising that Anderlecht, Club Brugge, Standard Liege, Ghent - Clubs that held sway in the 1980's/90's are now face less entities, decimated from the current horizon of European Club Soccer competitions. Belgium have not participated in the World Cup or European Championship in ten years. They have become a basket case of European Soccer. There is a co-relationship between the National team, Club Soccer, and emerging talent in every domestic scene. The three need intertwine for the prospects of a Nation to grow in Soccer terms. Belgium have had non of that for a while, hence their decrepit state for the last ten years. Is there any end insight ?
BUBBLE : Belgian Soccer might just be at tipping point of a renaissance. Talent and potential have begun to emerge, dotting it's soccer landscape. A look at their 26 man squad for the early September world cup 2014 qualifiers underscores the turn around. 20 of the 26 man squad play for Club sides outside of Belgium. There has not been this large a collection of players with the name recognition levels: the likes of Simon Mignolet ( Sunderland ) Vincent Kompany ( Man City ) Thomas Vermaelen ( Arsenal ) Timmy Simmons ( Nurnberg ) Moussa Dembele ( Tottenham Hotspurs) Dries Martens ( PSV Eindhoven ) Eden Hazard ( Chelsea ) Marouane Fellaini ( Everton ) Kevin Mirallas (Everton) Romelu Lukaku ( West Brom ) . It's been a long time coming, and just maybe this lot can go on to loftier heights. One thing is for sure : the days of low self esteem have been banished. Belgium now has a star studded national team. Eat your hearts out !!!
WORLD CUP QUALIFIERS: Qualifying for the World Cup finals is not achieved via the amount of talent a country has at it's disposal. It's about beating the other competitors to the ticket. Belgium has it's hands-full in a group containing Croatia, Serbia, Scotland, Macedonia, Wales. It looks a long road ahead, and not helped by the fact that the highest goal scorer currently for the national team is Defender Daniel van Buyten with 10 goals from 67 games; and the five strikers called up by coach Marc Wilmots, have scored just 9 goals between them. Almost none have tournament experience, and very few have any sort of sustained experience of winning trophies at a domestic level. This is the test for the golden generation of Belgian Soccer. This group will need to muster substance to go with the razzle-dazzle if they are to change the current state of affairs. Qualifying for the 2014 world cup finals in Brazil is practically a must. Croatia and Serbia would be tough nuts to crack, and gaining more points in the head-to-head games involving those two countries is of utmost significance.
It would be nice to see this talented collection of players evolve to be the next big thing. Spain look awesome at the moment, but Champions have a shelf life too; would Belgium grasp the moment? can they summon the courage and belief ? this represents a window of opportunity to show case an intent, one that has percolated. They must now seize being the blushing bridesmaid, and become the big deal. Over throw Spain, i perhaps allude ? why not ? Some one has to!! Let's hope it is not a bridge too far for Belgium. Before all the fantasy, dates with Wales away ( September 7th ) and at home to Croatia ( September 11th ) would give us an indication either way.
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