Monday, July 30, 2018

he Belgian senior men's national team: the Red Devils, were a decent force to reckon with on the international soccer scene up till 2002. They started going downwards thereafter, so much so that they consistently failed to qualify for the World cup and European championship tournaments. They missed the 2006, 2010 World cup tournaments; and the 2004, 2008 and 2012 European championship tournaments. Thus, for a period of 12 years, they consistently failed to qualify for any major tournament: the World cup and European- tournaments!

Belgium, thus, descended to a level of soccer "minnows" in the scheme of things; so much so that teams paired to play against the Belgian Red Devils, were always confident of defeating them, even on home soil!

This negative trend in the Red Devils' development was ascribed by analysts as due to the dearth of talented players! Yours sincerely was in agreement. But, the turnaround in the Belgian Red Devil's fortunes came, according to the opinion of yours sincerely, with the appointment of Coach Rene Vandereyken, as coach of the Red Devils. Though, still lacking talented players, he immediately defined his road map for the team's future: he told all and sundry that henceforth, he would only call up to the national team, "technical players"! In other words, regardless of a player's baggage of "experience", if he didn't have the required technical ability, such a player would have no ( more ) place in the Belgian Red Devils! And, conversely, regardless of a player's relatively lower level of experience, if he was sufficiently technical, he would certainly be invited to the Belgian national team.

As a consequence, young, inexperienced, talented and technical players like: Axel Witsel, Marroune Fellaini, Eden Hazard, Thomas Vermaelen and Mousaa Dembele, were invited to the national team. Regardless of their relative inexperience, Coach Vandereyken gave them the confidence and the opportunity to play at the highest level.

Initially, the expected results didn't come; thus, after less than two years on the job, Coach Vandereyken, was sacked! But subsequent coaches that took over, continued in his stead, and coupled with the discovery of more talented players, the Belgian Red Devils became once again a force to reckon with in international soccer! Thus, the consistent failure 'jinx' to qualify for major tournaments was 'broken'!

The Belgians made fairly decent impressions at the 2014 and 2016 World cup and European championship tournaments respectively. At the 2018 World cup tournament, given the quality of their players, that as a consequence, earned them the appellation of: "the golden generation", the Belgians expected at the very least a semi-final appearance, like the "golden generation" of the 1986 World cup competition. This expectation was met; and, with an improvement: contrary to the 1986 World cup team, they won the third place match, and, thus, improved on their fourth-placed performance of 1986. As a consequence, they achieved the best ever Belgian performance at the World cup competition! And, thus, justified their reputation as the "golden generation" of Belgian soccer players of the Red Devils!

In the commentaries in the local press, unfortunately, no one gives some credit for this team's success to Coach Rene Vandereyken, whose vision laid the foundation for today's success of the team! The current Spanish coach, Roberto Martinez, more or else, gets most of the credit. Much as Coach Martinez did a good job, me thinks Coach Vandereyken's efforts should be appreciated.

In conclusion, given the talent, experience; in other words, the quality of the Belgian Red Devils, they have a good chance of winning the first ever Belgian trophy, at the international level: the World cup or European championship, or even both trophies, at future competitions! A Belgian friend told me he thought the Belgians missed a good opportunity of being World champions, considering the victory over Brazil, in the quarter-finals and the narrow loss to the French in the semi-finals, of the 2018 World cup tournament. Yours sincerely disagrees. Me thinks at the 2018 World cup competition, the Belgians missed a slight measure of quality to be World champions! For example, the loss of Thomas Meunier, who couldn't play the semi-finals as a consequence of a yellow card offence, was largely ascribed as being mainly responsible for their defeat to France. Much as yours sincerely agrees; however, the inability to effectively replace a player, makes the Belgians unworthy of being World champions at the 2018 World cup competition. The French in the quarter-finals, lost the services of a key player: Blaise Matuidi, and, still survived. This according to yours sincerely, is one of the reasons the French, were more deserving of the World cup title than the Belgians! However, not to worry, the Belgians would have their day in the sun!!!!


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