Belgium have not reached a final tournament since 2002 but a decade of youth development looks like coming to fruition after the events of Friday night.
Not only did Belgium defeat Serbia 2-1 to become the first team in Europe to book at least a play-off berth, but Croatia fell to a surprise 1-0 home loss against Scotland, leaving Marc Wilmots' side three points clear in Group A. The presence of Wilmots - 'Das Kampfschwein' – as coach has been a crucial part in the squad’s coming of age after years of being recognised for their individual talent.
Players like Jan Vertonghen, Thomas Vermaelen, Vincent Kompany, Eden Hazard, Christian Benteke, Marouane Fellaini and Romelu Lukaku have all matured in the Premier League, while goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and midfielder Kevin De Bruyne have thrived in major leagues while on loan from Chelsea. The mental change is not only within the team, but also the fans. After years when the Roi Baudouin stadium has rarely been full, it could now be packed three times over by enthusiastic locals, while there are fresh initiatives being hatched all over Belgium.
SV Werder Bremen's De Bruyne was the hero against Serbia with a goal and an assist and said: "This is a beautiful highlight after a super season. I worked out well with Bremen and it really feels good to be able to be important for the national team.
"We are a bunch of young lads. And it really was a huge joy to end the season like this, and go on to holiday this way. But we are not going to over-exaggerate. We are not in Brazil yet. We just have to keep on doing what we have done so far. And that means: go into the next match against Scotland with the same mentality."
Wilmots echoed that last point. "We are not there yet. We have to keep our feet on the ground. If at the beginning of the campaign we had said we would have come this far already after seven matches, then we all would have signed up for it. Yes I am a happy man now. But no, we are not in Brazil yet."
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