The Red Devils entered the tournament as many expert's tournament outsiders but they could not make it past the quarterfinalsDespite failing to qualify for both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, Belgium was tipped by so many as the dark horse for this summer’s edition. The Red Devils could easily be described as one of the most heavily-backed teams in Brazil.
And looking at the quality available to head coach Marc Wilmots, Belgium fully deserved its dangerous tag.
Center back Vincent Kompany is widely regarded as one of the best defenders in the world, Eden Hazard is one of the undisputed stars of the Premier League and players such as Romelu Lukaku and Adnan Januzaj are among the biggest talents around in the game. Throw in seasoned professionals like Dries Mertens, Marouane Fellaini and Daniel Van Buyten and you have a serious contender.
Yet regardless of all their individual class, the Red Devils never really got going in Brazil.
A comeback win over Algeria was followed up by a hard-fought late victory over Russia, before they put South Korea to the sword in a game that effectively meant little as they had already booked their ticket for the knockout stages.
Wilmots’ men then showed what they are capable of in the round of 16 clash with USA as they created numerous chances and impressed with their free-flowing attacking football, even if they needed extra-time to see off the Americans following Tim Howard’s goalkeeping masterclass.
Yet when it was really tested for the first time in the quarterfinals against Argentina, Belgium came up short.
Alejandro Sabella’s men dominated from the start and it took them only eight minutes to beat Thibaut Courtois.
The fact that it was Gonzalo Higuain who broke the deadlock will only have been more painful for the Belgians. The Napoli man had failed to impress in the opening three weeks of the tournament and many had called for Sabella to drop the striker. Higuain kept on doing what he does best, however, and silenced his critics with a predatory finish from just inside the area.
Higuain continued to cause the Belgian defense all kinds of trouble throughout the game and came close to doubling his personal tally when he hit the crossbar, before he was eventually replaced by Fernando Gago.
Belgium, meanwhile, never really recovered from the former Real Madrid man’s opener. Hazard once more flattered to deceive as he created next to nothing and Kevin De Bruyne was unable to bail out his former Chelsea teammate this time around. The Wolfsburg man put in a virtuoso performance against USA, but was unable to deliver the goods once more.
With its two main creative outlets both kept silent, Belgium never really looked like getting back in the game. Only when it started playing long balls for Lukaku and Fellaini in the final 20 minutes did it occasionally look dangerous, but to no avail.
Belgium’s golden generation can travel back home with a feeling of pride, however, after winning four out of five games and reaching the quarterfinals for the first time since 1986.
Saturday’s match at the Mane Garrincha showed that Belgium still has room for improvement, but this is not the end for this group of players. There’s a European Championship coming up in France in two years’ time, before the 2018 World Cup will be played in Russia. Expect Belgium to be ready for them.