With the senior team now making waves on the European stage, the Royal Belgian Football Association aims to have 80,000 women playing the game by 2024.
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Belgium was one of the first European nations with a women's team, but prominence in the female game has been a long time coming. Although individuals like Femke Maes made waves abroad, Belgian success at international or club level was scarce until the Red Flames – a branding introduced in 2013 – made their UEFA Women's EURO debut in 2017. Back again this summer, Belgium now boast a free-scoring reputation and star names such as Tessa Wullaert, whose recent spell at Anderlecht underlined the growing stature of the Belgian domestic league, which is also producing exciting young talents.
Best UEFA competition performance
Senior: UEFA Women's EURO group stage (2017)
Youth: UEFA Women's Under-17 Championship fourth place (2013)
Women's football pioneer
Fabienne Van De Steene has been the Red Flames' physio since before they were known as the Red Flames, starting the role in 1993 when she was practically the head coach's only support staff. On top of her regular duties, she now acts as a mother figure for the younger squad members.
On the pitch…
An estimated 6,000 fans made the short trip across the Dutch border to Breda to watch the second Women's EURO game in Belgium's history on 20 July 2017. The journey proved worthwhile as goals from Elke Van Gorp and Janice Cayman secured a surprise 2-0 defeat of Norway and Belgium's first major tournament win.
… and off it
The Belgium men's team have long been known as the Red Devils, but the women had to wait until 21 September 2013 for their Red Flames nickname. The name was chosen in consultation with the players themselves and the new identity spearheaded a big promotional campaign, with on-pitch success following shortly after.
All signs point to Belgium becoming a growing force in the women's game. While the Red Flames enjoy a feedback loop of greater success and increased public support, standards are rising in the domestic Super League, and talents such as Wullaert and Cayman enjoy lofty reputations. Local interest is such that Belgium is now bidding jointly with Germany and the Netherlands to stage the 2027 FIFA Women's World Cup – with next year's Women's U19 EURO already coming to Belgium.
Here and now
Junior/senior: Playing perspectives
Hannah Eurlings is just 19 and is preparing for her first major international tournament. She plays as a forward for OH Leuven in Belgium's recently relaunched Super League.
Janice Cayman, 33, has amassed well over 100 international caps with the Belgian Red Flames and was a member of the squad for their first Women's EURO finals in 2017. At club level, she has lifted two UEFA Women's Champions Leagues with current club Olympique Lyonnais.
"When I was young, the Red Flames were really popular," says Eurlings. "I don’t think they had the role models that I had so the idea of doing what they were doing came at quite an early age for me – but my role models were Janice, Tessa Wullaert and Tine De Caigny."
Joining the game in Belgium
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"Trailblazers" is a unique exhibition that showcases the work of European artists given a blank canvas to celebrate women’s football. UEFA invited artists from participating nations in this summer’s tournament to create an image inspired by the game in their country. Belgium's representative is Ann-Sophie De Steur: "The inspiration for my art was the word "Belgitude" and the Red Flames (our national team) - I remember playing football when I was a kid. It was winter and i forgot my shorts, so I had to play in tights. It was very embarrassing then, but now i think it's quite funny. Kassandra Missipo is my favourite player, she's honest, straight-talking and played for Ghent, where I live."
Investing for the future
The Royal Belgian Football Association's (RBFA) women's football strategy
The RBFA launched its first women's football strategy, 'The World at our Feet', in 2019 and has since developed new initiatives that impact the women's game, including the Belgian Red Courts community project which aims to renovate 40 football pitches in the next four years.
By 2024 the aim is to:
* Double the number of female players from 40,000 in 2019 to 80,000
* Continue the national team's progress and reach the top eight of the UEFA rankings
* Draw more women into football roles, including referees and coaches
* Invest more in women's football development and capitalise on commercial opportunities
Women's Football Development Programme (WFDP)
Since 2010, UEFA's WFDP has provided associations with funding and tools to increase participation, improve standards and build infrastructure to help keep the female game growing. One example of a project funded by the WFDP programme in Belgium is…
Development of the Women's Super League (2019–20)
Belgium set out to further the progress of its domestic league, increasing the level of competition, growing the league into a strong brand with its own identity and helping the clubs to develop, also providing financial support and holding meetings and workshops with them.
This resulted in better cooperation between the clubs and the RBFA, an increase in the number of teams in the league from six to ten, a new brand identity and a TV tender that included one live televised game a week and highlights from other matches.