Roberto Martinez will be looking to take Belgium’s golden generation all through to the title as the Red Devils go into the competition as one of the tournament’s favourites. Touted as the last chance to win with one of the most experienced squads, here is why Belgium sucks and won’t do anything.
Your team: Belgium (Euro record: DNQ nine times, finished second once, third once, qualified five times)
Belgium's Euro record isn't exactly stellar if you dig deep to find out about their prominence. The Red Devils, no not that Manchester side, has participated in five UEFA Euro competitions with those being the ones held in 1972, 1980, 1984, 2000 and 2016. Although they managed to finish in third place and second place in 1972 and 1980, you might be wondering what might have happened in between those missing years. Yes, your team did not even qualify for the tournament between 1988 to 1996. Superpower, my foot.
In 2000 they managed to bring themselves back in prominence and subsequently qualify for the competition only because they were hosting it. And as per Uefa rules, hosting nations do not have to play knock out matches to qualify, so there is that as well. Then again from 2004- 2012, Belgium’s presence in the Euro has been ERROR: 404 NOT FOUND and the less said about that period the better. For you, not for me because your hearts have already been broken a few times.
In 2016 Belgium squad had graduated from “the team to watch" to “the team to beat" over a four year period. But the only thing we “watched” was them getting beat battered by a Wales squad playing in their first tournament for 58 years and were in the quarter-final. Think about that for a moment because that is not even the best part about all that and yes, that's even if Wales had Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and the Welsh Pirlo.
The best part happens to be the fact that the goals were scored by Ashley Williams, Hal Robson Kanu and Sam Vokes, who are - Not the first three players that come to mind when you think about the Wales squad and secondly all of these players are currently plying their trade in the lower leagues of English Football. Nothing against the lower leagues of English football but it's just, it's just they shouldn't even have found the net. Yeah, that's right, I said it.
The man leading the charge: Roberto Martinez
Or as I like to affectionately call him the "Poor man’s Pep Guardiola" doesn’t inspire much hope either. Give a man the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Dries Mertens, Thibaut Courtois and what does he manage to do with them? Lead the team to a successful exit at the hands of an average Wales squad in his inaugural season and call it a successful campaign that future campaigns can be built upon. If we are talking about his managerial capacity and experience then I think for a first-timer he has done decently.
You might be thinking what about his time at Swansea City or Wigan Athletic or Everton, right? Yes, some might even talk about the fairytale Fa cup win Wigan Athletic had over Manchester City. But is it really a fairytale or have Lactic fans and Martinez romanticised the idea of the “Underdogs” too well? It’s the latter because let me jog your memory. Both City and Wigan had registered the same number of shots on target (15). Wigan’s ball possession rate throughout the match has been 48% in comparison to City’s 52%.
A shock stoppage-time winner in 90+1’ minute may have been enough to guide Wigan to a first FA Cup victory over City who were a man down after Pablo Zabaleta's red card and simultaneously they did create history by becoming the first team to win the cup while getting relegated in the same season, courtesy of Roberto Martinez. So what can we expect from Martinez who himself is unsure of his perfect squad?
A comfortable round of 16 or maybe another quarter-final exit maybe say at the hands of Denmark or Turkey? Or, maybe, the Golden Generation does what others have done in the past and leave the tournament in the group stages. Don’t be surprised if this happens. Remember, you read it here first.
Why your team will continue to suck:
The current squad has been deemed to be the best squad that Belgium has had in quite some time, with some saying this is their greatest ever. From dark horses to potential title contenders, the Belgium team has undergone changes following years of missing out on World Cups and Euros. But they are missing key players and it could see them compared to England's Golden generation, you know the team that did nothing despite having apparently everyone.
With an ageing back three of Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertoghen and Thomas Vermaelen. Yes, 35-year-old Thomas Vermaelen, the former injury-prone center-back who once did things for Barcelona and Arsenal, who now plays in the J1 league in Japan. The same Thomas Vermaelen. While we're shocked he got a call-up, we're even more shocked that Nacer Chadli, whose notable performances include bland appearances for West Brom and Monaco, is still considered good enough to make the cut in such a talented squad.
Individually speaking, these players are the best of the best and have won several individual accolades but put them together and you get a mess. We saw the mess at the 2018 World Cup and the 2016 Euros, with them struggling to play like a team. Relying on individual talents might let you win one-off matches but not a tournament as a whole, as Argentina and Portugal, eventually, realised. Finishing third at a World Cup might seem impressive on paper but for a team of Belgium’s calibre, it is not enough.
Getting knocked out at the hands of Wales in a quarter-final despite having Romelu Lukaku, a fully fit and at his best Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois and the rest is just rubbish for a team that should have been trying to emulate Spain's Golden gen, the 2008-2012 one. While Spain’s dominance on the international level had diminished, they still managed to make the most out of their luck and won three trophies in quick succession.
Drawing comparisons to the Belgium team, although they are no way near the Spanish team, they should be trying to emulate the success of this golden generation with the resources available in their ranks. Otherwise, we might be looking at a trophy cabinet as empty as the one at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
What can give you hope:
This is a Belgian team full of world-class individuals. In goal, Thibaut Courtois has been nothing short of spectacular while Toby Alderweireld, Dedryck Boyata and Jan Vertonghen have all starred for their respective teams. Moving forward, a masked Kevin de Bruyne and, an apparently fat, Eden Hazard have set the world alight with their immaculate skill and prowess and the prospect of having the two in the same team will certainly send shivers down the spines of opposition defenders even if Hazard is no longer Hazard.
In the midfield, Martinez has a number of backup options as the likes of Yannick Carrasco, Dennis Praet, Youri Tielmans and Leander Dendoncker will all provide something completely different from the other two players and could be picked over Axel Witsel who has been injured for most of the season and may not start in the main 11. Further upfront, Romelu Lukaku’s insane form has been nothing short of commendable.
Look at it like this, on paper this is one of the best international teams on the planet, so it's no wonder they're the number one ranked team on FIFA's list. So good that even with De Bruyne and Axel Witsel injured for the start of the tourney, this side is still capable of great things. Even if Eden Hazard has been, let's all be honest with ourselves, shit this season with injuries, limited game-time, injuries and other factors diminishing what could have been a superb spell at Real Madrid.
But he hasn't played for the Red Devils for a year, since 2019, and only made his return five days ago with Lukaku handing him the armband and that looked very good...for the cameras but it did instil a sense of belief that the entire squad is behind him. Or maybe this was his plan all along, to sit out most of the season and then shine like a shooting star for the one team he actually cares about, the country he loves so much at their best possible chance for a trophy. Then again, who knows what he's thinking?