Nestled between footballing greats Holland, Germany and France lies Belgium. A nation with little football history and an empty trophy cabinet, Belgium are not a country renowned for their footballing talents.
They have failed to qualify for a major tournament since 2002 but with a ‘Golden Generation’ of footballers taking Europe by storm their luck could be about to change.
The Red Devils missed out on a Euro 2012 spot but will be setting their sights on qualifying for the 2014 World Cup with many pundits predicting them to stamp their mark on a major tournament in the near future.
Throughout the squad Belgium ooze class, they possess the most highly rated teenage goalkeeper in the world Thibaut Courtois, who is owned by Chelsea but currently on loan at Athletico Madrid. The teenage sensation is 6 ft 6 in height and a colossal between the sticks. His athleticism and natural ability to save shots helped guide Athletico Madrid to this seasons Europa League title, a fantastic achievement for the 19 year old.
Competing for the No. 1 shirt is Sunderland’s Simon Mignolet, the 23 year old keeper has proven his worth this season keeping Scottish No. 1 Craig Gordon out of the Black Cat’s starting 11. Over the years a lack of goalkeeping talent has cost England dearly, therefore for a nation like Belgium to have two fantastic goalkeeping talents can only stand them in good stead for the future.
In defence Vincent Kompany captains the side with a wealth of experience. The Manchester City defender was capped for his country at the age of just 17 and now has 9 years international experience. Kompany was arguably the Premier League’s best defender this year as City claimed their first Premier League title since its existence. Alongside Kompany sits another Premier League defender in Thomas Vermaelen. Again the Arsenal defender has bags of international experience despite only being 26. When fit the Belgium defender has the potential to be one of the best defenders in the world, and alongside Kompany it is a solid defensive partnership providing fantastic foundations for a team to be built around.
Jan Vertonghen is another Belgian player with bags of potential. The Ajax defender can also operate in a defensive midfield role therefore his versatility is clear to see. Like Kompany, Vertonghen is only 25 and has lots of time to reach his full potential as a move to Tottenham looks likely this summer.
In midfield Belgium have Steven Defour and Marouane Fallaini, two central midfielders who lack flair and creativity but provide hard tackling and precise passing in the middle of the park. Defour is just 24 and is a player that wears his heart on his sleeve, a driving force in the heart of the midfield. Like Defour, Fallaini does the dirty work in the middle of the park but also provides an aerial threat from set pieces.
Axel Witsel is another talented Belgian product. The midfielder currently plays for Benfica and can play in a number of positions. Naturally a centre midfielder, Witsel can also operate in a more attacking position or wide right in a more advanced role. The youngster has bags of pace but can be a fiery character when things don’t go his own way. However with age being on his side, there is plenty of time for the Belgian youngster to change his ways in the coming years.
Everyone knows you cannot win matches without scoring goals, and Belgium have some of the brightest attacking threats in Europe to date. Most notably Eden Hazard, the 21 year old is Europe’s most wanted player having had a scintillating 2011 season with Lille, the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea have all been linked with the Belgian sensation with the attacking midfielder most likely to join the latter this summer.
Hazard possesses all the ingredients required to be one of the greatest players the world has ever seen, his blistering pace along with a sublime final ball will cause problems for the most stubborn defenders. He is a dead ball specialist and has a keen eye for goal. Not only is Hazard a huge threat going forward but the youngster has a massive engine allowing him to fulfil his defensive responsibilities up until the final whistle. There is no doubt Hazard is already the best player Belgium have ever produced, but take in to account his age then there is nothing stopping the wonder kid from becoming the best player in the world.
Spearheading the Belgian strike force is Chelsea’s wonder kid Romelu Lukaku. At just 19 the former Anderlecht striker has been tipped to be the next Didier Drogba. Despite his age the striker is remarkably strong he has the ability to bully defenders and is a real threat in the air at 6 ft 3. He is also a natural goal scorer, a characteristic which is very rare in today’s generation of footballers.
Dedryck Boyata at Manchester City, Moussa Dembele at Fulham, Kevin Mirallas at Olympiacos, Jelle Vossen at Genk and PSV’s Dries Mertens are also fine Belgian players as the list goes on.
It is clear to see Belgium have a fine crop of young players moulding in to what could be a special Belgian side. If the lesser players can take inspiration and learn from the likes of Kompany and Hazard then this group of players could well be a real threat in years to come. However nobody quite knows how this Golden Generation will fare but only time will tell.