Following Belgium’s final 2022 World Cup group stage match, Romelu Lukaku could not contain his tears. He wasted several excellent opportunities to advance Belgium to the knockout stages.
After failing to defeat Croatia in a game that had to be won, Belgium was eliminated from the FIFA World Cup on Thursday.
Roberto Martinez has already vacated the position of head coach for Belgium. Belgium’s search for a new manager aims to bring in new players and fresh ideas. The time for that shift has come.
The Golden Generation
Belgium’s side returned to the international stage at the 2014 World Cup. After eight years, Belgium has primarily continued to deploy the same set of players and has been unable to replace them with younger players.
All the players that started the opening match against Algeria in 2014, including Thibaut Courtois, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Axel Witsel, Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard, and Lukaku, were all on the squad this year.
The youngest of those players, Lukaku, is 29 years old; Dries Mertens was a substitute in Belgium’s opening game of 2014 and started against Croatia on Thursday.
Another failure for Belgium's 'golden generation' ? pic.twitter.com/F5SqZSlvHB
— GOAL (@goal) December 1, 2022
Good old days
Of course, everyone would say this generation fell short of the criteria because Belgium was just eliminated from the World Cup. But there were enjoyable moments. There will always be fun times.
Martinez led Belgium to some impressive successes. The 2018 World Cup semifinal run by Belgium was the pinnacle of his managerial tenure.
Along the way, the Red Devils won all three of their group games to take first place, rallied to upset Japan in the Round of 16 after falling behind 2-0, and defeated a Brazilian team that included Neymar in the quarterfinals.
The matchup with France could have gone either way, but Les Bleus had the stronger and more talented team in the end.
Martinez is at the top of Belgium’s all-time management record despite the squad never achieving anything other than third place at the 2018 World Cup thanks to his 52 victories, 11 draws, and seven losses.
End of Golden Era in a World Cup Whimper
The first game against Canada was possibly Belgium’s worst World Cup performance. The young Canadian team finished with an xG of 2.63 compared to Belgium’s 0.77 and outshot Belgium 22-9. Belgium hardly managed to hold the ball or find a pass to spread out.
Morocco was a statistically more equal contest. Belgium could not get back into the game as Courtois’ questionable positioning allowed Morocco to take advantage of his near post on a free kick.
Even though Belgium never really found its stride during this tournament, it is undeniable that they ought to have at least scored against Croatia. I won’t criticize Lukaku for what transpired in the game, but he should have scored.
The likelihood is high that the Red Devils would have lost handily if Belgium had advanced to the next Round. Not a single performance would lead you to believe otherwise.
Belgium’s Golden Generation fall short again ?⬇️
▪️ 2016: Lost to Wales (QF)
▪️ 2018: Lost to France (SF)
▪️ 2020: Lost to Italy (QF)
▪️ 2022: Knocked out at group stage pic.twitter.com/Hk6vNr4eTo
— B/R Football (@brfootball) December 1, 2022
Simply put, Belgium didn’t appear capable of returning to their past levels under Martinez. Although Belgium’s attacking talent throughout the past eight to ten years meant that his tactics were always cautious, Belgium virtually always managed to score.
Infighting rumors within the squad and Martinez’s public denial of these rumors also didn’t help. Courtois claimed that these allegations and rumors were untrue in every detail and were not intended to be a diversion, but it still needs to be a better picture.
There are upcoming young Belgian talents. The two leaders are Jeremy Doku and Charles de Ketelaere, and their day will come soon enough. But for the time being, the passing of an era is being lamented.