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Belgium: More than Poirot and Fries w/Mayo?

July 5th, 2018 · No Comments · Fifa, Football, Russia 2018, soccer, World Cup

Belgium is a pretty anonymous country, considering where it is located — bordered by France, Germany and The Netherlands, and just across the water from England.

That’s a pretty busy neighborhood, with four countries tourists love to visit.

And then there is Belgium.

I probably am not unique in this: I have spent a fair amount of time in western Europe, including in the four aforementioned neighbors, but I have never stepped foot in Belgium.

But, then, why would I?

Belgium is hiding in plain sight. But its soccer team would like to do something to address that, at the Russia 2018 World Cup.

We are considering a country whose best-known citizen was invented by Agatha Christie — the detective Hercule Poirot.

The country’s best-known real person probably was Leopold II, who is more infamous than famous for ruthlessly exploiting Belgium’s African colony, Congo, which the tiny European country controlled for 75 years.

But back to Belgian football. It has been a competent soccer nation pretty much since its first international match, in 1904. Not great, not lousy … just sorta there.

This is Belgium’s 13th World Cup, out of 20, and its big moment was in 1986, when it reached the semifinals before being ousted by Diego Maradona and Argentina 2-0. Its next surge of note was at Brazil 2014 a place in the quarterfinals after defeating the U.S. 2-1 in extra time. The Belgians fell 1-0 to future finalist Argentina, but there was a strong sense of “wait till 2018”.

That 2014 Belgium side featured the leading edge of what is typically known in soccer as a “golden generation”, a group of really good players who happen to be about the same age who come along and lift a mid-tier soccer power to a higher level, at least for a few years.

Belgium gave notice it was on the way, in 2014, and this time around no fewer than 14 of its 23 players from 2014 have returned for the 2018 World Cup, including scoring ace Eden Hazard, beefy target man Romelu Lukaku, master playmaker Kevin DeBruyne and towering keeper Thibaut Courtois — all of whom are leading lights in the English Premier League. (Twelve of Belgium’s 23 players play in England; most all of them play for one of Europe’s big teams.)

This team is older and more experienced than the 2014 side, and the sense is that Belgium, No. 3 in Fifa’s world rankings, has a real chance of becoming only the ninth country to win a World Cup.

However …

Belgium has a rough road to the final, beginning with pre-tournament favorite Brazil tomorrow.

If Belgium pulls off an upset, it would get the survivor of the France-Uruguay match, and if Belgium wins that only then would it reach the final, possibly versus Croatia or England.

This seems to be Belgium’s best shot at winning; it features talent at every position, and the only concern is that its back line is on the wrong side of 30 — which could make keeping Brazil’s Neymar in check very difficult.

Winning a World Cup Trophy … that would be the biggest thing in Belgium’s history since independence in 1830 — or since someone came up with the idea of slathering French fries with mayonnaise.

It might even encourage some of us to step across the border and have a look around.



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