by Stuart Moriarty-Patten
With the qualifiers coming up this weekend thoughts turn to the World Cup, and with the next one in 2014 in Brazil it is perhaps unlikely that a European side will win. A team from Europe has never won a World Cup in South America, and, apart from Spain, it is difficult to see one doing so in 2014. So it may be worthwhile looking ahead to 2018 for the next European winner, when the World Cup is hosted by Russia, and Belgium maybe one of the teams to beat.
The old joke about naming two famous Belgians has pretty much had its day with the current wave of Belgian youngsters hitting our shores. The sparkling performances of Eden Hazard for Chelsea so far this season has highlighted how the current generation of Belgian footballers are beginning to have quite an influence on the English premier League.
Apart from Hazard other Belgian players playing regularly for English clubs include, Everton’s Marouane Fellaini, and the Arsenal and Man City captains Thomas Vermaelen and Vincent Kompany; Tottenham have last season’s Dutch player of the year, defender Jan Vertonghen, and new signing Moussa Dembele who scored on his Spur’s debut; while Sunderland have the current Belgian national team keeper, Simon Mignolet. Potentially the best of the lot in some commentator’s eyes is Romelu Lukaku who is currently on loan at West Brom from Chelsea who he signed for in last summer’s transfer window. Lukaku made his professional debut for Anderlecht while still at school at the age of 16, but since his move to Chelsea he found his chances limited. Despite scoring 7 goals in 9 appearancs for the reserves he never got a chance to start a league game for them until May last year, when his performance against Blackburn earned him the Man of the Match accolade. He scored for West Brom on his debut on the opening game of the season after coming on as a second half substitute in their 3-0 win over Liverpool.
Belgium may seem an unlikely source for a new golden generation of youngsters, and, unlike previous golden generations, like the French World Cup and Euro championship winning side of 1998 and 2000, or the current German team, the young Belgian players haven’t appeared due to any major revamp in coaching or management. Although Standard Liege have invested heavily in youth, and to a lesser extent so have Gent, it is mostly the result it being a lucky coincidence that these players have emerged together.
The Belgium team are currently ranked 40th in the FIFA rankings, a rise of 13 places in the last month, and haven’t qualified for a World Cup since 2002, and have only once appeared in the Euro since 1984 when they were co-hosts in 2000. However such is the excitement about the current crop of youngsters, and they looked in good form in last month’s 4-2 win over Holland, they are being looked at as possibly the next Euro winners in 2016, and there is even talk about them being a good bet for the 2018 world cup in Russia. The fact that the oldest of these group of players, Vermaelen and Kompany, will only be 32 by the time that World Cup kicks off in 2018, it may well be possible that Belgian will be a force to compete with. The only thing at the moment that seems against them is their own attitude. Like their Dutch neighbours they seem to be inflicted with the same ability to fight amongst themselves, and in 2011 the member of the Belgian team’s medical staff was driven to resign by the behaviour of some of the players stating he was sick of working with such “childish snobs”. Such is the talent available though that as they mature, and with good coaching, who knows what they may be capable of.