If you cast your mind back to 2010 or so, Belgium were a popular pick as a nation on the rise, and potentially a future World Cup contender – they were loaded with young talents at some of Europe’s best clubs, and if they stayed on that trajectory, would have a bunch of world-class players all at their peak at the same time.
That much was proven true. Vincent Kompany, Kevin De Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois, Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and plenty of others are all undoubtedly among the best players in the world over the past decade.
But one thing is missing at international level – a trophy.
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Some of the criticism levelled against Belgium, particularly articles and videos alleging that they “wasted” a golden generation seem unfair, if the bar is set at lifting the World Cup or bust.
Winning a World Cup is extremely difficult – and it’s not like Belgium have disgraced themselves in the past couple of tournaments. They were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Argentina in 2014, and finished third in 2018, and also reached the last eight in both European Championships in the meantime.
There’s some great example of past ‘golden generations’ that captivated world football but fell short of reaching the mountain top. Hungary’s ‘Magnificent Magyars’ of the 1950s lost just one game in six years, but it unfortunately happened to be the 1954 World Cup final.
The Netherlands altered the sport forever with their ‘Total Football’ philosophy in the 1970s, but were also defeated in the final. This generation of Belgium players aren’t quite at the level of those squads, but they did reach world number one on the FIFA rankings, and are littered with players who’ve performed at the highest levels in club football.
World Cup previews: All 32 squads | Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D | Group E
But this looks like their last chance to achieve what those great teams of the past couldn’t. Long-time captain and defensive lynchpin Kompany is retired. De Bruyne and Hazard are both 31, Lukaku is 29.
Regardless of your opinions on their profligacy, 2022 is the end for one of the best teams in recent years, and certainly one of the strongest playing groups to never lift a major trophy.
Teams (FIFA World Ranking):
Another team that went undefeated in qualifying, Belgium pipped Wales to the top of Group E with a game to spare after beating Estonia 3-1.
A crushing 4-0 win over Jamaica on the penultimate day of North American qualifying was enough for the Canadians to just their second-ever World Cup, 36 years after their first.
Where every other African play-off was decided by either one goal, away goals, or a penalty shootout, Morocco were rampant in the second leg of their tie against DR Congo, going 4-0 up inside 70 minutes after the first leg had ended in a draw.
On the final day of qualifying, Croatia faced Russia with only a win being enough to qualify – a late own goal from Fyodor Kudryashov gave them a 1-0 win.
Dwight Yorke previews the 2022 Football World Cup – Brought to you by Sportsbet
Morocco vs Croatia – Wednesday November 23, 9pm
Belgium vs Canada – Thursday November 24, 6am
Belgium vs Morocco – Monday November 28, 12am
Croatia vs Canada – Monday November 28, 3am
Croatia vs Belgium – Friday December 2, 2am
Canada vs Morocco – Friday December 2, 2am
Arguably the most wide-open group of the eight, you could make a case for any team – Belgium are the second-ranked team in the world, Croatia made the final last time, while both Morocco and Canada breezed their respective confederations in qualifying.
The best groups are often ones like this, when nobody is taking anything for granted – expect some entertaining contests.
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Australia’s 26-player squad for the 2022 FIFA World Cup