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Euro 2024 build up: Belgium

An ongoing changing of the guard for Belgium under new manager Domenico Tedesco keeps De Rode Duivels under the microscope after the nation’s Golden Generation has fallen short on the international stage

Former top-rated European powerhouse Belgium has been an enigma across the annals of recent football history and for many Belgians or neutral fans alike, an era earmarked for success on the back of an immensely gifted pool of talent can likely only be remembered in disappointment.

Dubbed a “Golden Generation” by many due to the wealth of talent that rose to prominence between 2010-22, a player pool that consisted of a veritable treasure trove of talent helped guide the nation to its best-ever finish at a World Cup after placing third at Russia 2018 while returning Belgium to relative footballing prominence not seen for three decades.

The names, that will no doubt be fondly remembered for years, are hardly unknown. The likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, Mousa Dembélé, Dries Mertens, Axel Witsel, and Thibaut Courtois all reached the pinnacle of the beautiful game while staring for elite clubs in Europe with breathtaking influence.

A quick look at De Rode Duivels’ all-time list is proof-positive of that influence, too.

Lukaku rose to become the nation’s top scorer in its history, with plenty of room to pad his goal record. Hazard, who was once viewed as arguably the best player in the world not named Messi or Ronaldo during his incredible stint with Chelsea, is second on that list, while De Bruyne’s creative genius has not stopped him from also featuring in the top ten and likely climbing further still when its all said and done.

As for appearances, well, the influence is even more clear further still. Of the top ten players to have ever featured for Belgium, eight received their first cap beginning in 2007, all of whom have featured over 100 times apart from De Bruyne, who sits on 99 and is guaranteed to also hit the century mark.

Former boss Roberto Martínez was adamant that 2022 presented another equal opportunity for Belgium to truly make its mark, but during a winter World Cup in Qatar, the boys in red faltered to an unprecedented level after they failed to emerge from a tricky Group F that was also comprised of Croatia, Canada, and eventual shock semi-finalists Morocco, while also bagging just a single goal along the way.

According to Kevin De Bruyne, who spoke freely in the run-up to the tournament, Belgium had no chance to better their campaign of four years ago when asked if Belgium could win in Qatar. A simple response of “No chance, we’re too old. I think our chance was in 2018. We have a good team, but it is aging.” That sentiment was echoed by Eden Hazard who stated “To be fair I think we had a better chance to win four years ago [in 2018].”

Ultimately, Martínez resigned from his post after six years at the helm and was ultimately replaced by highly-touted German tactician Domenico Tedesco with a contract set to run until the end of Euro 2024. It is a decision that, thus far, has seemingly been the correct one.

Tedesco’s appointment certainly turned a head of two on the back of a managerial track record at club level that some did not draw confidence from regardless of showing his ability to manage at a high level.

Across a combined 177 matches in charge at Erzgebirge Aue, Schalke 04, Spartak Moscow, and RB Leipzig, Tedesco posted a 48.62% win rate while also guiding RBL to its first DFB-Pokal honor in 2021-22. Even though his career to date has not been as illustrious as some of his contemporaries, including Julian Nagelsmann, Tedesco’s star has yet to truly reach its height as a man who was once primed for big things on the back of finishing ahead of Nagelsmann during their studies at the Hennes-Weisweiler-Akademie (Germany’s football coaching school), where Tedesco placed at the top of his class in 2016.

Through his first four matches in charge of Belgium, Tedesco has yet to taste defeat while also presiding over credible results against Sweden (3-0 win), and Germany (3-2 win). But a staunch test awaits the Italian-born manager during the current international break as a precursor to what life could very well be for the national team set up in the wake of its changing of the guard.

Injuries to Kevin De Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois, and Leander Dendoncker stripped Tedesco of three key assets, while Courtois is slated to miss the entire 2023-24 La Liga season, putting his participation at Euro 2024 (should Belgium qualify) under threat.

Coupled with Eden Hazard, brother Thorgan Hazard, Axel Witsel, Dries Mertens, Hans Vanaken, Dedryck Boyata, Jason Denayer, Toby Alderweireld, Thomas Meunier, and Simon Mignolet all either now retired or aging and no longer in contention moving forward, Tedesco must continue to offer further proof that Belgium can equal, if not better, the achievements of the previous national team core.

Thankfully for Les Diables rouges, the nation’s ability to produce talent destined for big things at a near-constant rate looks set to once again come in handy after the latest squad was announced for upcoming clashes with Azerbaijan and Estonia during the current international break.

Of the 24 players called into camp, only nine have appeared ten times or more, while just Romelu Lukaku, Mitchy Batshuayi, Yannick Carrasco, and Jan Vertonghen have scored more than five goals.

However, despite the inclusion of “greener” profiles and ten players 23 years old or younger, there is still cause for not only optimism but perhaps a bit of grace surrounding the fact that Belgium can now undergo renovations without the rampant expectations that were placed on those that came before.

A squad that features attacking talents Loïs Openda (RB Leipzig), Jérémy Doku (Manchester City), Johan Bakayoko (PSV Eindhoven), and Leandro Trossard (Arsenal), an engine room featuring Youri Tielemans (Aston Villa), Charles De Ketelaere (Atalanta Bergamasca), and Amadou Onana (Everton), and highly-touted young defensive trio Zeno Debast (RSC Anderlecht), Hugo Siquet (Cercle Brugge), and Ameen Al-Dakhil (Burnley), Belgium still boasts very credible long-term potential that is more than good enough to top a qualifying group whose toughest opposition comes in the vein of Austria and Sweden.

When added to the likes of Romelu Lukaku, a fit Kevin De Bruyne, and Thibaut Courtois, and veteran guidance from Jan Vertonghen, who recently arrived at Anderlecht in a move that could undoubtedly greatly benefit the aforementioned Debast, Tedesco has the tools to once again put Belgium on the road to expectations.

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Andrew Thompson

US-based Football writer. German football guru with a wealth of experience in youth development and analysis. Data aficionado. Happily championing the notion that Americans have a knowledgeable voice in the beautiful game.

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