Belgium, who meet Poland in the Nations League on Tuesday (8.45pm CEST), gave the image of an aging side awaiting their new ‘golden generation’ during this international window.
Outclassed by the Netherlands (4-1), the Red Devils recovered well against Poland (6-1) but called back and conceded the equalizer in Wales (1-1) in Cardiff on Saturday, which they undoubtedly achieved in the end an extraordinary cycle.
‘Little’ Belgium (population 11 million) has had a tireless presence at major events since 2014 and has often lauded its status as world No. 1 in the FIFA rankings, an anomaly now forgotten – it’s No. 2 – in a country in which surrealism is king.
Reaching at least the quarter-finals in the last four tournaments (World Cups 2014 and 2018, Euro 2016 and 2021), she also showed her tactical weaknesses every time she faced a more solid trap: Argentina 2014, Wales 2016, France in 2018 and Italy in 2021.
– A “scorched” generation? –
Today, the sweet euphoria that accompanied this “golden generation” is fading. “We will soon be able to speak of a burnt-out generation,” could be heard in the spans of the King Baudouin Stadium in the past few days.
Louis van Gaal also went there with his little spade. “Belgium are a team that’s easy to push around because they don’t put pressure on them. And when they do, they don’t find any solutions,” explained the Netherlands coach.
His match champion Kevin De Bruyne, still in top form at 30, preferred not to worry: “We can still achieve great things at the World Cup, but we are no longer among the favourites.”
Outside of scope, executive renewal is long overdue. The absences of Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen were not compensated in defense, Roberto Martinez continues to rely on the experience of Jan Vertonghen (138 caps, 35 years) and Toby Alderweireld (120 caps, 33 years).
Experienced but not very lively, both show their weaknesses, just like Dedrick Boyata (Hertha BSC, 31). For Philippe Albert, the formerly gruff full-back, “it is no longer possible to deceive with such a cardboard defense”.
– Young people in search of recognition –
Currently there are few better days in this sector, where Jason Denayer (26) is probably the best profile but is often injured, as well as the young Zinho Vanheusden (22, Inter Milan).
As for the promises of Wout Faes (Reims, 24), Arthur Theate (Bologna, 22), even Sebastiaan Bornauw (Wolfsburg, 23), Hannes Delcroix (Anderlecht, 23) or Koni De Winter (Juventus, 20), they have each other not confirmed at the highest level.
But the personnel problem is broader. The average starting XI against the Netherlands was 32 years old. And apart from De Bruyne or Courtois, many executives have stuck their tongues out this season.
This is the case of Eden Hazard, who found some joy at Real after a nightmarish season, but also of Romelu Lukaku, whose return to Chelsea did not live up to expectations, or Axel Witsel, Thomas Meunier, Dries Mertens and Divock Origi.
Who prevents the devils from falling into oblivion again? At 25, Youri Tielemans (Leicester) has shoulders broad enough to be one of the new generation captains, along with his teammates Timothy Castagne (27), Leandro Trossard (Brighton, 27) or even Yannick Carrasco (Atlético Madrid, 29 ). .
Belgium are also banking heavily on Jérémy Doku, who has had a difficult season with Rennes, and Alexis Saelemaeckers (AC Milan, 24), who has managed to earn a place in the Italian champions team.
Finally, the Lille resident Amadou Onana (20), who made his first steps in the selection, the nugget from Bruges Charles De Ketelaere (22), whom Milan covets, or the attacker of Vitesse Arnhem, Lois Openda (23 years old), Scorer on his debut against Poland, all promises follow…
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