After the glory years, Belgium is still ‘shadow favourite’ with a new team

Belgian team

This article was last updated on June 17, 2024

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After the glory years, Belgium is still ‘shadow favourite’ with a new team

They have been hanging around the table tennis table in the lobby of a hotel in the city center for more than six hours on their Sunday off. Four students from Frankfurt. Their patience is put to the test.

Their stamina too, so the table tennis bats have been lying motionless on the table for a while. But they don’t give up. They keep waiting, because if they are properly informed, the Belgian team will spend the night here.

“This is the chance to take a photo with Kevin De Bruyne,” says one of them. “You won’t get that for the rest of your life.” One of his friends has his sights set on an autograph from Romelu Lukaku.

It says a lot about the international reputation of the Belgians. They are no longer top favorites, but what is left of the ‘Golden Generation’ still appeals to the imagination.

“Logical, because De Bruyne is still one of the best players of the European Championship,” says former international Gert Verheyen, who played three final rounds with Belgium. “But other than that, a lot has changed.”

‘Less quality, more atmosphere’

After the World Cup in 2022, when Belgium was eliminated in the first round, Eden Hazard and Toby Alderweireld retired as internationals. Dries Mertens has not been called up since then and Thibaut Courtois is no longer present due to a disagreement with national coach Domenico Tedesco – or because he could not be fully fit, according to the goalkeeper himself.

Verheijen: “There may now be less quality in the selection, but I have heard that the atmosphere in the team has improved tremendously compared to that World Cup. You may be able to achieve more with that.”

Star player De Bruyne indeed states the day before Belgium’s first European Championship match against Slovakia that the energy in the team feels good. But he avoids a comparison with the disastrous World Cup.

“Qatar is done. There is nothing that can be done to change that. It was a disappointment. But what happened, happened. This is a new tournament, with a new coach and half a new team.”

‘We are shadow favourites’

And therefore a new round with new opportunities for the Belgians, who are still in third place in the world rankings. Although De Bruyne takes that fact with a grain of salt.

“I don’t think that with this selection we are really number three in the world. There are a few real favorites at this European Championship, with some more shadow favorites behind them. I think we belong to that group of shadow favorites.”

According to Verheyen, De Bruyne’s words are in line with expectations in his own country. “Belgium is no longer expected to reach the final, but we have not suddenly become so modest that we think it will be difficult in the group with Slovakia, Romania and Ukraine.”

And after that? “That depends on our top players,” said Verheyen, who, in addition to De Bruyne, is referring to striker Romelu Lukaku and 22-year-old wing attacker Jérémy Doku of Manchester City.

“He is really an artist. He is fast, can easily play a man and in terms of scoring and preparing goals, he has made a lot of progress under Pep Guardiola.”

Doku recently showed off his top form in a practice match against Luxembourg. But against Slovakia it will become clear what good preparation is worth. And what remains of the good atmosphere after a possible setback.

As far as the latter is concerned, they can take an example from the foursome in the hotel lobby. It turned out that they had been waiting all those hours in the wrong hotel. And yet they continued happily. Another chance tomorrow.

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