High standards for low country

Belgium's footballers have a proud tradition to maintain, on and off the field of play.

Belgium's Jan Ceulemans in action during the 1980 UEFA European Championship final against West Germany
Belgium's Jan Ceulemans in action during the 1980 UEFA European Championship final against West Germany ©Bob Thomas/Getty Images

The body recognised today as the Union Royale Belge des Sociétés de Football-Association / Koninklijke Belgische Voetbalbond (URBSFA-KBVB) was formed in 1895 prior to Belgium's first football championship in 1895/96. Nine years later the association became one of the seven original members of FIFA, whose first secretary and treasurer was the Belgian Louis Mühlinghaus.

The URBSFA-KBVB went from strength to strength with its national team, known as the Red Devils, winning gold at the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp. That victory set the tone for a string of honours as football rapidly gained popularity around the globe. Indeed, the inaugural FIFA World Cup final of 1930 was officiated by a Belgian referee, John Langenus – an example of how highly regarded Belgium's football had become.

When UEFA was founded in 1954, the URBSFA-KBVB was again heavily involved, with Belgian José Crahay taking a key role in the new organisation. The introduction of European club competitions led to successful Belgian outfits becoming more familiar across the continent. RSC Anderlecht hold the proudest record, having reached a total of seven European finals, with European Cup Winners' Cup victories in 1975/76 and 1977/78, as well as triumphs in the 1982/83 UEFA Cup and the 1976 and 1978 UEFA Super Cups.

Winning the UEFA European Under-18 Championship in 1977 paved the way for something of a golden age for the senior Belgium team on the international stage. Following defeat by the odd goal in three at the hands of West Germany in the final of the 1980 UEFA European Championship, Belgium embarked on a terrific World Cup qualification run. When the national side took part in the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan it was their sixth consecutive appearance in the finals, a sequence stretching back to 1982.

The highlight of their unbroken World Cup streak was the 1986 campaign in Mexico, where they lost to eventual winners Argentina in the semi-finals. Belgium also have a distinguished record off the field, notably when they were awarded the FIFA Fair Play Trophy in 1992 in recognition of the URBSFA-KBVB's efforts in setting up Casa Hogar, a charity aimed at fighting the kind of poverty witnessed during that 1986 trip to central America. The association's dedication to youth football has also been manifested by the creation of a gleaming national training centre at Tubize, near Brussels.

The URBSFA-KBVB also enjoyed a notable achievement by co-hosting UEFA EURO 2000 together with the Netherlands. Four Belgian venues – Brussels, Bruges, Liege and Charleroi – were selected to host matches in what was a 16-team UEFA European Championship.

In 2014, after an absence of 12 years, Belgium reached a major final tournament again, when they qualified under coach Marc Wilmots for the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. The "Golden Generation", a talented group of players who had taken Belgium to the semi-finals of the UEFA European Under-21 Championship in 2007, reached the quarter-finals in Brazil. The Red Devils then went on to reach the last eight at UEFA EURO 2016 in France.

Women's football also enjoyed excellent progress at the same time, with the Belgian national team qualifying for its first-ever major tournament, UEFA Women's EURO 2017 in the Netherlands.