Belgium's 'golden generation' will have one final gamble in Qatar

Belgium’s fabled ‘golden generation’ have just one more chance to win something together at the World Cup… De Bruyne, Lukaku and Hazard have so far failed to deliver, but you would not bet against them lifting the trophy in Qatar

  •  Belgium’s fabled ‘golden generation’ of superstars arrive in Qatar striving for one last chance of success
  • Since bursting onto the international stage in 2014, Belgium’s hugely talented squad has failed to deliver
  • Qatar represents a final opportunity for the Red Devils veteran stars to lift the World Cup together
  • Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne must replicate their club success to stand any chance of success
  • Will Belgium’s underdog status drive them to World Cup glory or will their stars fade away quietly in Qatar?
  •  Sportsmail delves deeper into Belgium’s chances of success at the World Cup as history beckons
  • Click here for the latest World Cup 2022 news, fixtures, live action and results

Belgium’s so-called ‘golden generation’ should have achieved so much more, could have achieved so much more, but ultimately failed when it mattered most. 

This World Cup represents a last-chance saloon for their star-studded line-up of international underachievers. Now they have to either go all the way in Qatar to fulfil their ever-present potential or be remembered as the nearly-men who left a nation short-changed.

There have been numerous ‘golden generations’ over the years. It is a term coined when a team finds itself with so many world class superstars that lifting major national honours is all but a technicality. 

England had it in the early 2000s when David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, and more were expected to waltz their way to trophies. They didn’t. In fact, they never even reached a final.

Belgium arrive at the Qatar World Cup as unexpected underdogs but will their attempts go under the radar as the country’s ‘golden generation have one last stab at success

Romelu Lukaku (left) and Kevin de Bruyne (right) will be aiming to put previous national team failures behind them as the veteran Belgium duo strive for World Cup glory

Belgium manager Roberto Martinez takes charge of his second World Cup campaign with the Red Devils as he attempts to make the nation’s ‘golden generation’ finally deliver

France are the newcomers quipping the same phrase with the likes of Kylian Mbappe, five times Champions League winner Raphael Varane, and upcoming Real Madrid star Aurelien Tchouameni , to name a few, all making the trip to defend their world championship title in the Middle East.

Belgium, on the other hand arrive in Qatar without the familiar expectations of being favourites to win the World Cup. Their squad carries immense talent and is laden with trophies, but where they have previously been labelled ‘dark horses’ heading into tournaments, this time they make their entrance at football’s grandest competition as the forgotten nation that falls short in the knockout stages. 

2014 – knocked out at the quarter-final stage by Argentina. 2018 – eliminated in the semi-finals by France. 2022? Belgium’s tournament track record does little to inject confidence that they can lift the World Cup in Qatar.

But if Roberto Martinez’s mixed bag of talent can adopt the same form that saw Belgium become the only team to claim FIFA’s number one world ranking spot without winning a major tournament, then they have an underdog’s chance.

Belgium’s 2022 World Cup squad features the usual suspects with Real Madrid’s Eden Hazard captaining the country, Manchester City midfielder star Kevin de Bruyne, Champions League winning goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, and Romelu Lukaku to name a few of those chosen for the trip to Qatar.

Belgium’s then young stars burst onto the scene at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil as a squad blossoming with talent destined for success starred on their way to a semi-final exit

In 2018 Belgium’s ‘golden generation’ boasting superstars such as Kevin de Bruyne arrived at the World Cup as FIFA’s number one ranking team but fell short again in the semi-finals

Now in the Middle East, Belgium’s experienced veterans will gamble for last one chance of World Cup success with this the last major tournament for many of their players

When you work your way through the Belgium World Cup squad it’s fair to say that the nation should have done better in previous tournaments, at the very least they should have reached a final, but there is also another realisation that the country’s ‘golden generation’ is entering their final curtain-closing moments.

31-year-old Belgium skipper Hazard arrives at his third World Cup having just added the Champions League title to his stuffed trophy cabinet with Real Madrid after enjoying years of Premier League title success with Chelsea. 

Impressive? Yes. But the £130million Madrid man is in arguably the worst form of his career having been struck by lengthy injuries over the past few seasons and has failed to replicate the form he showed so consistently in London for Madrid or Belgium. 

Belgium captain Eden Hazard arrives at his third World Cup determined to lead his side to glory in Qatar, but he has doubts around his own involvement in the team

Hazard, 31, lifted the Champions League title with Real Madrid last season but the £130million Real Madrid winger has failed to replicate his world-class success at Chelsea

Hazard himself admitted in the build-up to Belgium’s World Cup opener against Canada that he does not deserve to start the match following ‘two seasons’ of personal failure at Madrid. 

National team boss Martinez might feel otherwise and will be hoping that one of the world’s best players over the past 10 years can show his supreme quality one final time on the global stage.

And what of Kevin de Bruyne? The Manchester City star that many agree has been the best midfielder in the world for the past three seasons at both club and international level. 

A young 23-year-old De Bruyne makes his World Cup debut in Brazil in 2014 but will be hoping at the age of 31 in Qatar that he will be able to go all the way in the tournament

The Manchester City midfielder is classed by many as the best midfielder in the world following huge success in the Premier League. Now he must deliver for Belgium.

The 31-year-old has become arguably the club’s greatest ever under Pep Guardiola and undoubtedly a future Premier League Hall of Fame inductee during seven-and-a-half seasons in the north-west of England.

But his glittering CV is left with a gaping hole under the column listed ‘international achievements’. Since making his first-team debut for the Belgium national team in 2010, De Bruyne has gone on to make 94 appearances and finding the back of the net 25 times.

His 100th Belgium appearance would come in this World Cup’s semi-finals should the European nation make it that far. He would then proceed to lift the trophy in his 101st appearance, not a bad way to enter the triple digit history books as an international footballer.

De Bruyne has the talent, attitude, and experience of shining in the global spotlight that is so badly needed if the ‘golden generation are to live up to their name in Qatar.

However, striker Romelu Lukaku is an altogether different conundrum that Martinez must get right at the very first-time of asking at the winter World Cup. Lukaku stormed into the country’s last major international tournament at Euro 2020 having enjoyed a career-best season scoring 32 goals in all competitions with Inter Milan under the guidance of Antonio Conte on the club’s way to lifting the Serie A title. 

An out-of-form Romelu Lukaku faces a race to be fit for the start of the World Cup after a series of injuries with Italian side Inter Milan this season

Lukaku struggled last season following his £97.5million move back to Chelsea and departed Stamford Bridge just a year later as he was sanctioned a loan move back to Milan

He followed his club performances by scoring a modest 4 goals in the country’s run to a quarter-final exit up against eventual champions Italy before securing his move to re-join Chelsea for £97.5million. 

26 appearances and just eight goals later, the 29-year-old Red Devils star found himself back at Milan on a long-term season-loan. His confidence shattered and desperate to re-ignite his form as a trip to the Middle East loomed nearer. 

If the Belgian striker can replicate the form he demonstrated for Inter Milan in 2020 then the country has a chance

The former Manchester United striker has been hampered by injuries throughout the season so far and has managed just two goals in all competitions at club level, not the form he would have been hoping for as Belgium prepare to take on the world’s best talent in Qatar. Lukaku scores goals but Belgium need to play to his strengths otherwise his talent inside the box will be wasted.

Belgium’s squad on paper makes them out to be easy backers for World Cup success, but out-of-form players combined with a mix of veterans and promising young players looks slightly confusing. 

They should have no problem navigating their way out of a group f containing Canada, Croatia, and Morocco, and they will need to use all of those 270 group stage minutes to gel before entering the knockout stages. Should they fail to achieve that then it’s clear that Belgium’s ‘golden generation’ was at very-best bronze.

Short-fallings have become the new norm for this star-studded nation glittering with world class players that have won every club honour but nothing with their country. They have the know-how, experience, and beautiful footballing talent required to see their name inscribed on the World Cup trophy on December 18.

Belgium manager Martinez has adopted an attacking playing style and will be heavily relying on his attacking players to stun opposition defences at the Qatar World Cup

Belgium players will get their 2022 World Cup campaign underway against minnows Canada with the Red Devils aiming to get off to a high-scoring start

Qatar represents a last tenacious roll of the dice in the desert for a nation that is watching its ageing stars enter the final stages of their peak years. Forget Champions League and Premier League titles, lifting the World Cup would be the pinnacle of every Belgium players career, so don’t write them off completely.

Can they produce a fairytale ending or will the World Cup be a formality in fading out a failed collection of superstars? Greatness has been expected before, for one final time the shackles are off for a concluding gamble at historic success. 

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