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A Bright International Future Awaits Belgium’s Young Starlets

Young, talented, and capable of achieving great things. When you put it like that, Belgium’s new wave of footballers sound just like CatchSeventy7

Belgium: Might set the world alight?

Belgium: Might set the world alight?

National identity is a hard thing to describe.

Some countries become famous around the globe for the cultural, political or social delights they bring to a wider audience. Other countries are lucky to be known for one or two things — if anything at all.

Marked on those admittedly limited criteria, Belgium undoubtedly falls into the later category. The list of things the European country is famous for is pretty short: chocolate, beer, housing European, bordering France…

Basically, the country described by Charles De Gaulle as,“an aberration of history” is rarely a first port of call for tourists visiting Europe.

In sport, the story is similar. Partly due to its size (its population is just under 11 million), Belgium has never been known as a footballing powerhouse. Qualifications for big international competitions have been limited and, on the whole, unsuccessful.

Yet, slightly under the radar, the country is slowly producing a group of young players that look talented enough to make the oft-overlooked country a sizeable player in European and international football.

Not since World Cup ’94, where a squad including legends Michael Preud’homme, Phillipe Albert, and Danny Boffin made it through to the knock-out stages, have prospects been so bright for the Diables Rouges.

On the surface, such an assertion might seem a bit optimistic. At the half-way stage of World Cup qualifying, Belgium lie fourth in their group — adrift of Spain, Turkey, and Bosnia-Herzegovina (whom they have already lost two twice).

They also lack a manager, after Rene Vandereycken was dismissed following the aforementioned two defeats.

As a result, qualification for the big event in South Africa in 2010 looks highly unlikely.

But qualification prospects for future competitions looks more promising. The fact the country have looked to attract managers of the calibre of Louis Van Gaal and Marseille manager Eric Gerets to replace the departed Vandereycken — without being laughed out of town — indicates the potential of the squad they have, and the attraction it subsequently is beginning to hold for managers.

In England, club managers have already experienced first-hand the quality of Belgium’s young exports. Midfield enforcer Vincent Kompany joined Manchester City in August last year, and the 23-year-old has since been a consistent presence in the engine room of Mark Hughes’ side.

Further south, on Merseyside, Everton’s record signing has made a splash in his first season in the Premiership. Signed for £15m from Standard Liege, Marouane Fellaini has been a huge (both figuratively and, at 6’5”, literally) figure in Everton’s midfield.

“There was a lot of pressure on his shoulders being the club’s record signing and he found it difficult to start with.” said former Toffee Nigel Martyn recently. “But he has got to grips with the Premier League and really shown his worth in recent months. He’s a real handful in the penalty box.”

Together, Kompany and Fellaini look set to dominate international midfields for years to come. And, with the supporting cast quickly developing around them, Belgium are quickly becoming a team that few others will want to play.

Further forward, big things are already being expected of Lille’s Eden Hazard. Other than being a headline writer’s dream, the 18-year-old has been a constant threat for sides in Ligue 1, scoring and creating goals from his position behind the main striker.

His performances have caught the eyes of some footballing luminaries, including Arsene Wenger.

“Hazard is a fantastic young player,” the Arsenal boss recently commented to French media outlet Telefoot. “He has impressed me so far, and I am not the only one he has impressed.”

Unsurprisingly, Arsenal have subsequently been linked with a move for the 18-year-old.

Already capped four times for his country, the youngster looks set to become a fixture in the side for years to come. Many are just hoping his younger brother, Thorgan (currently with RC Lens) turns out to be as talented.

At last year’s Beijing Olympics, Hazard often appeared up front for his country with Moussa Dembele, the 21-year-old striker currently playing under Van Gaal at Dutch title-winners AZ Alkmaar. Having scored nine goals in 22 appearances so far in the Eredivisie, the youngster is highly-rated by all who have seen him play.

“He’s already good enough to handle the level of a top European club,” said Vandereycken before his departure. “Moussa can handle anything.”

With a supporting midfield class including the likes of Axel Witsel and Steven Defour — both of Standard Liege, who pushed Liverpool so close in the Champions League qualifiers this year, and knocked Everton out of the UEFA Cup — opportunities should not be wanting for Dembele, Hazard, Kevin Mirallas, or whoever starts up front for the team.

If anything, only a lack of top class defenders might hold the team back from achieving on their undoubted potential. Genoa’s Anthony Vanden Borre has been much touted since making his international debut in 2004 aged just 17, but is still a long way from being a top-class international defender. Daniel Van Buyten, of Bayern Munich, is a solid-enough player at the back — but at 31, will he still be at his peak when the rest of his youthful teammates reach theirs?

If these question can be answered, if the likes of Laurent Ciman (23, Club Brugge), Jan Vertonghen (22, Ajax) and Sebastien Pocognoli (21, AZ) can develop into quality international players, then the future really will look very bright for traditionally one of Europe’s less threatening footballing nations.

Even if defensive concerns remain, however, the attacking resources already at their disposal will still make them a difficult opponent to face in any circumstances.

Many of these players have grown up at youth level together, and have developed something of a shared bond and ambition. World Cup appearances and international success are the main long-term goal. Euro 2016 — wherever it may be held — must be penciled in as the team’s best opportunity to make a real splash.

In the short-term, targets are more reserved.

Crowds have deserted international games, with the 50,000 Koning Boudewijn stadium no longer used because it was never filled. With the population being drawn from widely differing cultural backgrounds, and with three languages widely spoken, national unity is a problem—and consequently attendances have never been particularly high.

If they can convince fans to attend in their thousands — and cheer for a country they feel a confusing affiliation with — then there is little limit to what they might achieve.

 

This article also appeared on Bleacher Report.

Surprisingly, it was also picked up by Fox Sports.

 

 

 

National identity is a hard thing to describe.

Some countries become famous around the globe for the cultural, political or social delights they bring to a wider audience. Other countries are lucky to be known for one or two things—if anything at all.
Marked on those admittedly limited criteria, Belgium undoubtedly falls into the later category. The list of things the European country is famous for is pretty short: chocolate, beer, housing European, bordering France…
Basically, the country described by Charles De Gaulle as,“an aberration of history” is rarely a first port of call for tourists visiting Europe.
In sport, the story is similar. Partly due to its size (its population is just under 11 million), Belgium has never been known as a footballing powerhouse. Qualifications for big international competitions have been limited and, on the whole, unsuccessful.
Yet, slightly under the radar, the country is slowly producing a group of young players that look talented enough to make the oft-overlooked country a sizeable player in European and international football.
Not since World Cup ’94, where a squad including legends Michael Preud’homme, Phillipe Albert, and Danny Boffin made it through to the knock-out stages, have prospects been so bright for the Diables Rouges.
On the surface, such an assertion might seem a bit optimistic. At the half-way stage of World Cup qualifying, Belgium lie fourth in their group—adrift of Spain, Turkey, and Bosnia-Herzegovina (whom they have already lost two twice).
They also lack a manager, after Rene Vandereycken was dismissed following the aforementioned two defeats.
As a result, qualification for the big event in South Africa in 2010 looks highly unlikely.
But qualification prospects for future competitions looks more promising. The fact the country have looked to attract managers of the calibre of Louis Van Gaal and Marseille manager Eric Gerets to replace the departed Vandereycken—without being laughed out of town—indicates the potential of the squad they have, and the attraction it subsequently is beginning to hold for managers.
In England, club managers have already experienced first-hand the quality of Belgium’s young exports. Midfield enforcer Vincent Kompany joined Manchester City in August last year, and the 23-year-old has since been a consistent presence in the engine room of Mark Hughes’ side.
Further south, on Merseyside, Everton’s record signing has made a splash in his first season in the Premiership. Signed for £15m from Standard Liege, Marouane Fellaini has been a huge (both figuratively and, at 6’5”, literally) figure in Everton’s midfield.
“There was a lot of pressure on his shoulders being the club’s record signing and he found it difficult to start with.” said former Toffee Nigel Martyn recently. “But he has got to grips with the Premier League and really shown his worth in recent months. He’s a real handful in the penalty box.”
Together, Kompany and Fellaini look set to dominate international midfields for years to come. And, with the supporting cast quickly developing around them, Belgium are quickly becoming a team that few others will want to play.
Further forward, big things are already being expected of Lille’s Eden Hazard. Other than being a headline writer’s dream, the 18-year-old has been a constant threat for sides in Ligue 1, scoring and creating goals from his position behind the main striker.
His performances have caught the eyes of some footballing luminaries, including Arsene Wenger.
“Hazard is a fantastic young player,” the Arsenal boss recently commented to French media outlet Telefoot. “He has impressed me so far, and I am not the only one he has impressed.”
Unsurprisingly, Arsenal have subsequently been linked with a move for the 18-year-old.
Already capped four times for his country, the youngster looks set to become a fixture in the side for years to come. Many are just hoping his younger brother, Thorgan (currently with RC Lens) turns out to be as talented.
At last year’s Beijing Olympics, Hazard often appeared up front for his country with Moussa Dembele, the 21-year-old striker currently playing under Van Gaal at Dutch title-winners AZ Alkmaar. Having scored nine goals in 22 appearances so far in the Eredivisie, the youngster is highly-rated by all who have seen him play.
“He’s already good enough to handle the level of a top European club,” said Vandereycken before his departure. “Moussa can handle anything.”
With a supporting midfield class including the likes of Axel Witsel and Steven Defour—both of Standard Liege, who pushed Liverpool so close in the Champions League qualifiers this year, and knocked Everton out of the UEFA Cup—opportunities should not be wanting for Dembele, Hazard, Kevin Mirallas, or whoever starts up front for the team.
If anything, only a lack of top class defenders might hold the team back from achieving on their undoubted potential. Genoa’s Anthony Vanden Borre has been much touted since making his international debut in 2004 aged just 17, but is still a long way from being a top-class international defender. Daniel Van Buyten, of Bayern Munich, is a solid-enough player at the back—but at 31, will he still be at his peak when the rest of his youthful teammates reach theirs?
If these question can be answered, if the likes of Laurent Ciman (23, Club Brugge), Jan Vertonghen (22, Ajax), and Sebastien Pocognoli (21, AZ) can develop into quality international players, then the future really will look very bright for traditionally one of Europe’s less threatening footballing nations.
Even if defensive concerns remain, however, the attacking resources already at their disposal will still make them a difficult opponent to face in any circumstances.
Many of these players have grown up at youth level together, and have developed something of a shared bond and ambition. World Cup appearances and international success are the main long-term goal. Euro 2016—wherever it may be held—must be penciled in as the team’s best opportunity to make a real splash.
In the short-term, targets are more reserved.
Crowds have deserted international games, with the 50,000 Koning Boudewijn stadium no longer used because it was never filled. With the population being drawn from widely differing cultural backgrounds, and with three languages widely spoken, national unity is a problem—and consequently attendances have never been particularly high.
If they can convince fans to attend in their thousands—and cheer for a country they feel a confusing affiliation with—then there is little limit to what they might achieve.
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May 10, 2009 - Posted by | Sport, World Football | , , ,

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