The stakes were high as many regarded this as the last chance for Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’ to win a big tournament. It was a tough ask for the Red Devils, particularly as Axel Witsel, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard didn’t have the best preparation due to injuries, but they won all three group games before narrowly squeezing past Portugal. That was as good as it got. Missing Hazard and with De Bruyne not fully fit, Belgium ultimately fell to Italy in the quarter-finals.
What were the positives?
During previous tournaments, Roberto Martínez had always demanded beautiful football no matter the opposition – and that is exactly why Belgium lost against France during the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Here, the coach took a different approach. Even though we never denied our football DNA, this time we adapted it more to each opponent, introducing more pragmatism rather than a change in playing style. Belgium looked to have learned from previous mistakes and matured.
The De Bruyne (and Belgium) comeback against Denmark. The midfielder sat out the first game due to injury but, after a weak first half against Denmark, he came on as a substitute and sparked the turnaround – providing an assist and, to top it off, the winning goal. Thanks to the phenomenal Manchester City schemer, the Red Devils qualified for the knockout stage. It was a lift as well to see Witsel and Hazard make their returns in that match.
What the future holds
Jeremy Doku was the first of an emerging generation to break through at a big tournament, but many others are knocking on the door. Club Brugge’s Charles De Ketelaere, Standard Liège’s Zinho Vanheusden, AC Milan’s Alexis Saelemaekers and Anderlecht’s Sambi Lokonga are just a few of the names inspiring hope for the future.
Even so, it is a lot to expect of them to replicate what Belgium have now: world-class players in every position. The fans need to accept that it could be a while before we have such a talented crop again. In the meantime, let’s hope that Belgium’s gifted veterans decide to stick around for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Predictions for the rest of EURO 2020
I’ve always had a soft spot for underdogs and I believe that a motivated Denmark team will find the power to reach the final following Christian Eriksen’s medical emergency. But as to who will lift the trophy, I feel that Italy will prove too strong – even for the Danes. After seeing how well they defended and attacked in probably the highest quality game of the tournament so far, I’m almost certain this band of Italian brothers are going to win the competition.