Belgium players celebrate Kevin de Bruyne's winning goal against Denmark
Belgium players celebrate Kevin de Bruyne's winning goal against Denmark

Euro 2020: Is this Belgium's best chance to win a major tournament?

As Belgium thumped Russia in their opening fixture of Euro 2020, there was a real sense of expectation among Belgian fans; is this the year the Red Devils finally break their major tournament hoodoo?

An early goal from Denmark's Yussuf Poulson in their second game of the tournament made life awkward for the Belgians though, and while they did go on to turn the game around and claim all three points, it was a far from convincing performance, at least it wasn't until the introduction of the brilliant Kevin de Bruyne.

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The Golden Generation

The term “golden generation” was originally coined by the Portuguese sports media in reference to a group of talented young footballers led by Luis Figo, but much like other nations who have had the misfortune of also being referred to as the “golden generation”, success was limited.

In fact, despite winning two FIFA World Youth Championships, now known as the Under-20 World Cup, that generation of Portuguese players failed to win a senior trophy.

Obviously, many people will associate the term “golden generation” with the England team led by Sven-Goran Eriksson, featuring the likes of David Beckham, Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard; the list goes on.

Rio Ferdinand on England's "golden generation"
Rio Ferdinand on England's "golden generation"

But as everyone in England can most certainly attest to, this “golden generation” also failed to live up to their billing.

So then, is the term “golden generation” more of a hindrance than a compliment? It certainly has seemed that way in the past, and this current crop of Belgium players may be inclined to agree.

This squad are widely considered to be the best crop of players the country has ever produced, with the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, and many more, but they are yet to win a major tournament, and their performance against Denmark highlighted how far away they may actually be from doing so.

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Quarter-finalists at Euro 2016, when they were knocked out by Wales, Belgium were many people’s favourites to win the 2018 FIFA World Cup, but they narrowly scraped their way past Japan in the Round of 16, coming from 2-0 down to win 3-2, before finally being outclassed by winners France in the semi-finals.

The 2018 World Cup felt like the tournament that Belgium should have won, with their best players all at the peak of their powers, but there is a feeling that this generation of players is now on the decline as they look to win a first major international tournament.

Is is now or never for Belgium?

Only Sweden's squad have a higher average age than Belgium's at this summer's European Championship, and it is for this reason that this really could be make or break for Roberto Martinez' men.

The defence is the main concern as, while Jason Denayer is still just 25-years-old, his two centre-half partners in Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld have a combined age of 66, and it was in fact Denayer that was at fault for Denmark’s opening goal.

In terms of the midfield, Youri Tielemans is certainly a player for the future, but in terms of the career trajectory of Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard, you would have to say they are more likely to be on the decline than the incline, and as injuries and fatigue begin to take hold, you have to wonder how many major tournaments they have left in them.

Romelu Lukaku has had his best domestic season for Inter Milan this term, recording 24 goals and 11 assists in Serie A, but he will be 29-years-old at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and 31 for the next European Championship. Will his pace, strength and agility still be at the level it currently is at those future tournaments?

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It is important not to overreact to Belgium’s underwhelming performance against Denmark, they will still likely top the group with maximum points and remain with a good chance of winning Euro 2020, but there is a distinct feel of last chance saloon about this tournament.

Roberto Martinez has inherited a sublime group of players and if this current crop of Belgium players end their careers without a major international trophy in their trophy cabinet, it could be the Spanish manager who comes under the most scrutiny.

Just as with Sven and England though, and indeed Luiz Felipe Scolari and Portugal, coaches can only do so much, and players must take responsibility for what they have or have not achieved.

Should de Bryne, Hazard, Lukaku and co never experience glory on the international stage, it will be something that they may regret for the remainder of their careers, and that makes this tournament all the more crucial for Belgium.

Alex Keble's Euro 2020 tactics talk: England's free 8's can do damage
Alex Keble's Euro 2020 tactics talk: England's free 8's can do damage

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