When Belgium beat Brazil to reach the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup, Roberto Martinez’s side must have felt that this was the moment to fulfil their vast potential. If defeating the most iconic nation in World Cup history was not a portent of glory to come, then what was?
Unfortunately for Belgium, it all unravelled in the semi-final. Coming up against a France side hell-bent on winning their second World Cup, Belgium just couldn’t find the answer to the quality on show from Didier Deschamps’ side. They then had to settle for third place as France danced around with the World Cup in Moscow.
Four years on, hope springs forth once more for Belgium. The golden generation are yet to deliver the major international trophy that many feel their talents warrant, but they’ll be eager to go one step better in Qatar this year than they did in Russia. Unsurprisingly, they are one of the favourites in the betting World Cup market to lift the trophy in Doha on December 18th.
As usual, Belgium breezed through qualifying, remaining unbeaten in a group containing Wales, Czech Republic, Estonia and Belarus, and now the challenge will be to take that form into the finals.
They have been drawn in Group F with Croatia, Canada and Morocco, so you wouldn’t expect them to face too many difficulties in reaching the knockout stages. Croatia will provide a stern test, but if they can overcome the runners-up from four years ago, winning the group should be a formality. Indeed, most will expect the ‘Red Devils’ to rack up plenty of goals against Canada and Morocco.
Much will hinge on the form of certain players in the Belgium squad. Romelu Lukaku has been through some ups and downs since the last World Cup, but he’ll be keen to prove on the world stage that he is still one of the game’s top talents. Against teams like Canada and Morocco, you’d expect him to have a field day, but the true test will be against tougher opposition in the latter stages of the tournament.
There will be similar pressure on Kevin De Bruyne, who it must be said has struggled to produce his best form consistently in major international tournaments. Everyone is well aware of De Bruyne’s supreme talents, and he has proven himself across numerous seasons for Manchester City. If he could get on a roll in Qatar and start dictating games the way he does in the Premier League, Belgium will be a formidable prospect for any of the world’s elite international sides.
Ultimately, winning a World Cup, or any major international tournament for that matter, is a hugely difficult task, and you certainly need your fair share of luck along the way. You could argue that the stars just haven’t aligned for Belgium over the last decade or so — that the hands of fate have not been willing to bestow success upon them.
Will this be the year that changes and Belgium truly make the most of their elite potential? We’ll find out in just a few weeks’ time.