Back in the UEFA European Under-17 Championship final tournament for the first time since reaching the last four on home soil in 2007, Belgium have high hopes they will again thrive at the business end of things in Slovenia.
The 2012 finals begin on Friday, with Belgium drawn to face Poland, the Dutch defending champions and then the hosts in Group B. Patrick Klinkenberg's side pipped Hungary on goal difference to qualify from elite round Group 7 and now they are in Slovenia, the coach is optimistic that such a prestigious stage will serve to give his players' careers a significant shot in the arm, as was the case five years ago with the now highly esteemed LOSC Lille Métropole forward Eden Hazard.
"I think our qualification was deserved looking at the football we played," said Klinkenberg. "The three matches we played were all very good, so looking at the quality we showed we deserve to be among Europe's best eight. We have a lot of ambition as this is a very good group and we worked very hard to get this far. Our main quality is the team football we play. We do not have really physically strong players, but we do have players with excellent technique. We always try to build attacks from the back.
"This is a group who are extremely motivated, with a strong mentality, which is very important at the top level. I think I have a complete squad with all the necessary qualities. It would be great to reach the semi-finals, and then anything can happen. I think it is an open group, with title holders the Netherlands, who are favourites. Together with the other two teams, who I think are pretty equally matched to us, we are outsiders."
While progressing to the later stages of the tournament remains the aim for Klinkenberg, he also hopes it can provide a launchpad for his players. "
It is very important for players at this age to be able to play a final tournament like this, in which they can face the best teams in Europe. They will learn a lot which they can use in their career. It is like a turbo in a car, it will accelerate their career."
Hazard is the perfect case in point, a player who impressed in 2007 and who has since made a seamless step up to the senior international squad. "In 2007 I was part of the staff as scout for the head coach," added Klinkenberg. "Eden was a terrific player already, with enormous potential. He added a lot to that team, but also learned a lot. In his learning process he really gained a lot of experience, and I think that tournament made him ready much faster to be able to become a first-team player."
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