The semi-finals of Euro 2016 are set and Belgium aren’t part of it. Their Golden Generation was unable to live up to the high expectations, disappointing an entire nation.
An army of Red Devils’ fans made the short trip from Belgium to Lille on July 1. The hype was huge, as Belgium dominated Hungary 4-0 in the round of sixteen, mainly due to a strong performance by their captain Eden Hazard. Belgium’s confidence in their national team soared to historical heights, with many fans and pundits expecting nothing but their first European title.
Therefore, their crash against Wales was all the harder. The deception was huge, an entire nation cried consequently. What was supposed to turn into a massive party just across their own borders, turned into a vale of tears. Especially since Belgium had a unique chance of reaching the Euro final, with Portugal looking very much beatable in a semi-final encounter.
But despite going up 1-0 with a Radja Nainggolan stunner, the Dragons came out victorious with goals from Ashley Williams, Hal Robson-Kanu, and Sam Vokes. Even with Gareth Bale pretty much invisible the entire game, the Belgian stars were unable to create a sufficient amount of chances against yet another well-organised team, bouncing out in the quarter-finals again, after being eliminated by Argentina at the same stage during the 2014 World Cup.
Lack of team spirit
The feeling among Belgium fans was summarised by one of my friends, who was at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy, where the Red Devils lost 3-1. “I had my hands on my head, with my mouth wide open. I couldn’t believe what was happening,” he said.
What made things even worse, Belgium had been warned about their failed tactics and too heavy reliance on individual play when they started the competition with a 2-0 loss to Italy. The criticism after the Wales disaster was exactly the same compared to the comments after their loss to the Azzurri.
Not surprisingly, Belgium’s Coach Marc Wilmots found himself in the eye of a media storm. Even goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who’s known for his positive but smart interviews, couldn’t keep his frustration to himself. He said the same things after both losses: “The opponent was tactically better, they played as a team, and knew what to do.”
He was exactly right. The Red Devils are known for their massively talented players, technical skills, offensive power, and…for their lack of a team spirit. Just look at the way they ‘sing’ their national anthem, especially when compared to how Italy players live it. There’s no cohesiveness, with the injury to Vincent Kompany adding to their leadership woes.
Time for a change
Hazard had to lead the way this time, a role he’s unsuited for. Kevin De Bruyne is a star player, but nothing more. The same goes for players like Romelu Lukaku and Axel Witsel. On top, Wilmots has proven time and time again he’s no tactical genius. Belgian pundits were right when they talked about the fact that this talented team hasn’t made any progress since the World Cup.
Belgium still dominates against less talented teams, with their stars making the difference. But when they face a decent team that knows how to play well-organised football, the Golden Generation seems lost. That has been a reality since Wilmots took the job in May 2012, and is still the final conclusion when talking about Belgium.
If the Red Devils want to win a first international trophy with a once in a lifetime squad, they need two things: 1) a new coach, 2) a better mentality. In the end, the first point was already a given, meaning it was primarily the second point that caused Belgium’s tears.