The Belgian Revolution


The Belgian national team are on the verge of securing a place at the World Cup finals for the first time since 2002 and play away to Croatia on Friday before hosting Wales on Tuesday in two remaining qualification fixtures.

A draw against Croatia, who are five points behind Belgium at the top of Group A, would seal direct qualification for Brazil 2014.

The current crop of Belgian talent includes several Premier League players, including Thomas Vermaelen of Arsenal, Eden Hazard of Chelsea and Vincent Kompany of Manchester City.

Speaking to French television, (Arsenal Manager) Wenger said: “I think it is the best generation of Belgian footballers of all time. There really is competition for every single place.

“For me there are three countries whose national team managers must have trouble sleeping [given the players available for selection] – Germany, Spain and Belgium.”

There is also much expectation in Belgium over the latest exciting prodigy to be called up to the national team, Zakaria Bakkali.

The 17-year-old PSV forward is likely to pick up a first cap for Belgium after turning down the option to play for Morocco who, like midfielders Nacer Chadli and Marouane Fellaini, he is also eligible to represent at international level.

CNN’s James Masters asks if “Belgium is football’s coming force?“. He provides an interesting background on the rise of the Belgian team and its enviable crop of talented footballers.

…On the pitch these players have come together to give Belgian football its most exciting generation of players since the team reached the 1986 World Cup semifinal.

The path to today’s array of riches has not been an easy one — Belgium has failed to qualify for the past five major tournaments and only an extensive overhaul of its playing structure has ensured that the country has not been left behind.

“Some 13 years ago the Belgian Football Federation decided to reorganize Belgian football programs and set up in every province an elite academy,” leading Belgium youth football coach Michel Bruyninckx, who has long been interested in maximizing the way players use their brain in games as part of his innovative training sessions, told CNN in a recent interview.

“In collaboration with all the universities in our country and after studying the strategies of other countries the Belgian FA composed a plan with the new vision implemented in the different federation academies and then step-by-step integrated in the club programs.

“Just as importantly the Ministry of Education agreed to create a school curriculum to extend the number of weekly training hours.

“That meant we could guarantee young talents would have about 20 hours training time a week and their school programs were never in danger.

“The structure, organization and lifestyle in the academies was regularly checked to make sure that this project delivered professional players or highly qualified young people.”

Youth program

The project has been a huge success — Belgium’s top club side Anderlecht competes in the European Champions League with a team boasting an average of just 22.5 years.

The club’s youth teams have been dominating on both the national and European stage, while the Belgian Under-21 side recently defeated Italy 3-1.

“Anderlecht have won five of the eight national youth championships and many important European tournaments such as the Viareggio, the Aegon Future Cup and the Premier League Cup,” added Bruyninckx.

“The integration of many very young players in the first team is the proof of the success of what has happened in Belgium. Most of all Youri Tielemans, the 16-year-old player who has surprised the whole of Belgium and is the product of the new strategy.”

Star pupils

One of those players to have come through the Anderlecht system announced himself on the world stage last weekend.

Adnan Januzaj scored twice on his full Premier League debut for Manchester United in a 2-1 win at Sunderland — sparking a wild frenzy among a whole host of nations which want to secure his international future.

The 18-year-old, who was born in Belgium, could potentially play for his country of birth as well as Albania, Turkey, Serbia or Kosovo, which has yet to be recognized by FIFA.

Even England has made overtures in attracting the youngster to wearing the Three Lions.

There may be a chance Januzaj will wear the red of Belgium, but that is for the future — he has refused all international call-ups so far.

Now Belgium is hoping that the culmination of the project will take place in Brazil next July with its group of players one of the most talented in Europe.

Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has starred in Spain’s La Liga for Atletico Madrid, while Chelsea’s Eden Hazard is regarded as one of the most exciting playmakers in the world.

Benteke and Lukaku are two of the most lethal finishers in the English Premier League, while Fellaini commanded a $43 million transfer fee when he joined Manchester United from Everton in August.

Then there is the prodigiously talented Bakkali — who, at 17 years and 196 days old, became the youngest player to score a hat-trick in the Dutch league, for PSV Eindhoven in August.

‘Something special’

There is talent everywhere you look — it is a squad which promises to thrill, excite, inspire and perhaps, just perhaps, win.

“For the past three years we’ve known that we’ve had some good players but we didn’t always get the results,” Dembele says.

“I think now you can see we have a lot more confidence there. With the World Cup, it’s all looking good for us but it’s not done quite yet.

“I think there are some difficult games to play but we’re confident.

“We have a very good team, so we don’t have to be scared. But we have to be concentrated, and I believe if we get to Brazil we can do something special, but we have to get there first.”

How far do you think the Belgians will get in the 2014 World Cup? Will they reach the semis or maybe even the final? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter by tagging us @toknowthegame.

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One Comment on “The Belgian Revolution”

  1. Martin Cooney October 11, 2013 at 6:13 pm #

    I think they will go far but doubt they will win it. South America inevitably proves a difficult stage for European countries but with this current Belgium squad it would be foolish to completely rule them out. Let’s just remind ourselves that a year ago, or certainly two, no one was talking about Belgium outside of Belgium. But I think now anyone who has monitored the tiny nation’s phenomenal surge to join the ranks of Europe’s elite could be perhaps forgiven for dreaming that this run will continue during next summer’s World Cup.
    I’m not so sure though to be honest. It’s one thing to perform well when there is no mantel of expectation, but another when people start placing huge sums of money with the bookies, or when the eyes of the world are fully focused on each game. I’m sure Belgium will attract much support given the size of the nation and the style in which they play, and no doubt they will be many a football fan’s favorite ‘second team’ but whether this can translate into a team capable of brushing aside Brazil, Argentina, or Germany and Spain is another matter. At the moment, while my heart says yes my head is shaking from side to side in an emphatic “NO”.

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