When thinking of Europe’s strongest soccer powerhouses, the Belgium National team does not often come to mind. During the ’80s, Belgium had a surprising number of good performances against strong squads such as the Soviet Union, Spain and England.
The 1986 World Cup held in Mexico saw the rise of an unexpected fourth-place finisher — similar to Uruguay in the 2010 World Cup. Belgium rose from the ashes after nearly failing to secure a qualifying spot in the tournament to reaching the semi-finals, much to the surprise of soccer fans worldwide. The Belgians would go on to knock out past and present teams including the Soviet Union and Spain before losing to the eventual champion, Argentina.
But the next six world cups left Belgium in the dust. They would only go as far as the first round before losing three times, then failing to qualify for two consecutive cups in 2006 and 2010.
Now, under the leadership of Manchester City’s left centerback Vincent Kompany and Bayern Munich’s defender Daniel Van Buyten, Belgium has a strong unit from the back line to its forwards. Kompany, playing on one of the world’s best squads, is considered one of the top defenders in the European leagues. He is a strong, impenetrable force that led Manchester City to its 19 shutouts in 2011-2012 English Premier League match play and 10 shutouts in its current season. Kompany received the Premier League Player of the Season award in 2012, a testament to his skill.
Thomas Vermaelen, ex-captain and current vice-captain of the Belgium National Team, caps the defensive line, carrying over his skill from Arsenal.
Eden Hazard and Marouane Fellaini, who are both attacking midfielders and dominate players in the English Premier League with Chelsea and Everton, respectively, are on the offensive line. Although Hazard has a play style similar to Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo, he has been dubbed “little Messi” by Olympique Gymnaste Club Nice coach Claude Puel.
Kevin Mirallas, Fellaini’s teammate on Everton, will be joining the Belgian defense, as he has recently been called up to start over Nikica Jelavic.
Luckily for Belgium, all the players mentioned -— save for Van Butyen –— have more than one world cup left in them. All of these players are young all-stars with years of play left in them. As history and sports culture proves, having a strong squad with star players will breed interest in the sport and inspire more players.
This generation of soccer fans will see a strong Belgian team that should last through more than one world cup.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Jan. 30 print edition. Francisco Navas is deputy sports editor. Email him at [email protected]