Old nemesis Wales ruined Belgium's UEFA EURO 2016 dream in Friday's Lille quarter-final, but team reporter Berend Scholten insists it is certainly not the end for this 'golden generation'.
Article top media content
Old nemesis Wales wrecked Belgium's UEFA EURO 2016 dream in Lille on Friday, but this quarter-final defeat need not spell the end for the 'golden generation'.
With the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard, there is some justification for the tag given to this crop of players. Indeed, it is said they might be the best generation in Belgian football history – not bad for a nation with a EURO final and FIFA World Cup fourth place to their name.
After they reached the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals following a 12-year absence from major tournaments, much was expected of Marc Wilmots's team in France given the experience gained in Brazil as well as in the top UEFA and domestic competitions.
Ups and downs
If the 2-0 Group E defeat by Italy marked a slow start to their campaign here, the Red Devils recovered remarkably – dispatching the Republic of Ireland 3-0 and Sweden 1-0 before a superb display saw off Hungary 4-0 in the round of 16.
However, Wales again proved the stumbling block. The Red Devils had been beaten in Wales and drawn at home to Chris Coleman's side during qualifying; then in Lille last night, despite taking the lead through Radja Nainggolan's thunderous drive, they lost their fire the moment Ashley Williams levelled on 31 minutes. Thereafter they laboured to regain control and eventually went down 3-1.
Coach Wilmots conceded: "We were listed among the favourites. When you go out, you want to go further. But we made too many mistakes to win against a very good Wales side.
"Before this we had conceded no goals in our last three matches. We made mistakes we shouldn't have made. Maybe it's fear because they are young, but I am responsible for that.
"But I'm not a magician and you can't suddenly replace experience. We were unfortunate having two players out injured already [Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Lombaerts] and then we lost a wise old head [Jan Vertonghen]."
Indeed it seemed that lack of experience left the team unable to respond after Wales equalised. Kompany and Lombaerts, the usual central defence, were pre-tournament casualties, and against Wales both Vertonghen and suspended Thomas Vermaelen were missing. Consquently the 11 players Wilmots lined up at the Stade Pierre Mauroy were the youngest EURO finals side since Yugoslavia in 1968.
However, as Johan Cruyff once said: "Ieder nadeel heb zijn voordeel." Which translates as every disadvantage has its advantage.
Having a young team means there is a future. And with the experience of another championship, and two more years' maturity, the hope for a better future is definitely justified. At the same time, though, the players must realise there are not many chances in a career to win tournaments with your country.
Therefore captain Eden Hazard already has his sights on the 2018 World Cup. "Right now we are very disappointed, but life does not end here. We have to keep on continuing working with this generation. In two years there is another World Cup and that is our next goal."