Its been 32 years since Guy Thys’ Belgian team narrowly lost in the European Championship final to Germany. Apart from a fourth place in the Mexican World Cup of 1986, Belgium have slowly fallen off the radar and currently find themselves ranked 44th in Fifa’s rankings. However, with a host of new stars in the team the future looks bright for the National Team, but will they draw a blank like the current crop of world-class English players.
Belgian sides have recently invested money to help improve their youth recruitment network. Standard Liege have spent almost €20 million on their academy which has resulted in afro sporting midfielder Marouane Fellaini being snapped up by Premier League side Everton and Benfica splashing the cash on Alex Witsel. Both these players were stars of Liege’s youth academy and are now a staple of the Belgian national teams’ midfield. Romelu Lukaku (18 at the time) sparked a European bidding war at the end of last season with Real Madrid, Manchester United & Chelsea amongst others after the man touted as ‘the new Drogba.’ Eventually Lukaku chose Chelsea as his destination and although only making 8 appearances this season he is widely regarded as one of Europe’s biggest young talents.
This summer sees another Belgian prospect spark a transfer frenzy his name, Eden Hazard. The 21 year old attacking midfielder has attracted interest from Manchester’s two big clubs amongst a host of other top European teams. It will be interesting to see who the three times UNFP Player of the Year decides to transfer too. Rumours surfacing during the past few weeks have said that Hazard’s preferred destination would be a Manchester club however, late interest from recent Champions League winners’ Chelsea has been said to stall his decision.
With all the above players amongst other talented names, the Belgian national side could theoretically mount a serious challenge for any tournament they are involved in. However, after finishing third in their Euro 2012 qualifying group which featured teams such as Germany & Turkey, Belgium failed to qualify for this summer’s tournament. The side have prematurely been compared to England’s current crop of players such as Gerrard, Terry & Lampard who although considered as world-class players, have never won a major international tournament. Only time will tell with the Belgian side and they must now focus on qualifying for the 2014 World Cup and prove themselves on an international level.