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Belgium's 'golden generation' continue to disappoint

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After Belgium's defeat to Italy, their players, fans, and media alike need to admit defeat in their efforts to convince the football world that the Red Devils are a powerhouse. 

When Belgium’s ‘golden generation’ began to break through around the turn of the decade, the idea was that their talented starlets could be the group of players to finally break the monopoly of European elites like France, Spain, and Germany. 

And following the arrivals of Vincent Kompany and Marouane Fellaini in the Premier League in 2008, English fans became somewhat invested.

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Reasons for optimism 

Kompany and Fellaini opened the gates and their international teammates soon followed; Thomas Vermaelen in 2009, Mousa Dembele in 2010, Romelu Lukaku and Thibaut Courtois in 2011 and Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Jan Vertonghen and Christian Benteke in 2012.

The majority of England's top clubs now have at least one of Belgium's bright hopes in their ranks. 

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Although the Belgium squad was still in its infancy, many hoped that now that their players had been exposed to the Premier League, they would be more equipped for international success. 

That team - apparently the finest Belgium team ever assembled - watched from home in the summers of 2008, 2010, and 2012. It wasn't until the 2014 World Cup in Brazil that they ended their 12-year wait for a major tournament. 

Poor record

At that World Cup, they were unconvincing but managed to get out of a weak group featuring Algeria, Russia, and South Korea. 

It took them extra time to get past the Americans in the next round, before crashing out to Argentina in the quarter-finals. As soon as they had come up against a genuine contender, they were defeated. 

Back to the present day, and their success in the years since that World Cup has given them a second-place standing in FIFA's world rankings. But it is important to remember that those world rankings are about as reliable as a 30-year-old right back that plies his trade in the MLS. Harsh on Laurent Ciman? Watching his performance against Italy, probably not.

Belgium v Italy - Group E: UEFA Euro 2016

Those hoping to make money off Belgium's success would have done better to look at previous tournament wins than the world rankings. Only four teams at this summer's Euros have won multiple major tournaments: Germany (seven), Italy (five), Spain (four), and France (three). 

The usual favourites 

Right now, no-one can really argue against those usual 'big four' being the favourites. The old guard aren't going anywhere for now. 

It was certainly interesting to see how the much-fancied Belgians were swept aside by what is supposedly the worst Italian side in generations. 

The Guardian were quick to point out that coach Marc Wilmots must shoulder his share of the responsibility for failing to get the best out of Belgium. 

Their poor showing so far cannot be attributed to nerves or lack of experience again. At 23, Lukaku was the youngest player in a starting eleven with an average age of 27. Perhaps it is more a case of quantity over quality. Plenty of decent players, yet not enough elite players to truly compete at the highest level.

De Bruyne and Hazard are without a doubt world-class players who, on top form, could slide into any team in the world. But beyond their two primary playmakers, have any of Belgium’s former starlets developed into stars? 

Belgium v Italy - Group E: UEFA Euro 2016

At 24, Courtois is a good goalkeeper, but even the most ardent Chelsea supporters would have their work cut out in arguing that he is at the level of the world’s best in David De Gea and Manuel Neuer.

Unreliable 

Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld have had career-best years alongside each other at Tottenham Hotspur but they looked shaky against Italy, just as they did towards the end of the Premier League season. Belgium haven't kept a clean sheet in eight games. 

Captain Vincent Kompany is injured, so while the defenders in his place are capable enough, they clearly can't be relied upon when the going gets tough. 

As for Vermaelen, it has been at least four years since he even resembled a capable defender.

And for everyone’s sake, the less said about Fellaini, the better.

FBL-EURO-2016-MATCH10-BEL-ITA

Finally, Lukaku, supposedly the team's goal machine, is as inconsistent a player as you are ever likely to see. The Everton striker can cause havoc one game and be totally inept the next. History shows that that is not the formula for success in tournament football. 

Ultimately, nothing sets Wilmots' men apart from teams like Croatia, who have two stars in Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, but a supporting cast of players who are not world beaters. 

If the Red Devils do relatively well this summer, it shouldn't be taken for granted. It should be seen, just as with Croatia, as an underdog story. 

Can Belgium win Euro 2016? Have your say in the comments. 

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Topics:
Belgium Football
Jan Vertonghen
Euro 2016
Football
Romelu Lukaku

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