FIFA World Cup: Can Belgium’s tiring ‘Golden Generation’ finally take off?

Belgium was languid, listless and a little out of breath in its opening World Cup game, letting a younger Canada run most of the course of the game

Belgium players celebrate with their fans after the win over Canada.

Belgium players celebrate with their fans after the win over Canada. | Photo Credit: REUTERS

Belgium was languid, listless and a little out of breath in its opening World Cup game, letting a younger Canada run most of the course of the game

Wine ages well, McDonald’s burgers don’t age (trust Icelandic anthropologist Hjörtur Smárason about this), but does a waffle age well or stay as fresh? It perhaps does if made only by McDonald’s with its nature-defying decades-fresh eats. 

But Belgium, the birthplace of waffles (don’t let the French take this away), has neither aged well nor has it come to this World Cup fresh. It was languid, listless and a little out of breath in its opening World Cup game, letting a younger and faster Canada run most of the course of the game. 

This Belgium starting XI had seven players aged 30 or above and six of them were there in the 1-0 2018 semifinals defeat to France, and though the 1-0 result in favour of Belgium was as expected, it was the emerging ‘Golden Generation’ of Canada with Alphonso Davies (22), Jonathan David (22) and Tajon Buchanan (23) that impressed. 

“Today was such a difficult game, Canada was better than us. They were very clear in what they wanted to do, they had a lot of pace, a lot of directness, and we had to show another side of our play,” Belgium coach Roberto Martinez was quick to accept. “I’m delighted because we won the game through grit, experience, and the quality of our goalkeeper, who kept us in the game. The victory today was more important than a victory when you play well.” 

With a median age of 28.3 – one of the oldest in the tournament – age is finally showing for a generation that promised a trip to Mars but has always failed to take off. This was a game of dreadful disappointments as injuries have made Eden Hazard, now a non-regular at Real Madrid, a pantomime of his glorious past (an ageing rock ‘n’ roll star crooning in a Las Vegas bar), while the defensive combination of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld are regularly reminded that it’s not easy to keep up with the growing demands of the modern game. 

While Romelu Lukaku (just shy of 30) continues his return to fitness from a thigh injury that has mostly kept him out of play since a move back to Italy with Inter Milan, it was left to Kevin De Bruyne – already a Premier League legend – to lend this attack some threat with his encyclopedic range of passes. The other old man, Thibaut Courtois, too, excelled, and Michy Batshuayi (a year away from 30) did get the goal that helped Belgium equal Brazil’s record of winning eight consecutive World Cup group-stage matches.  

But can this class of stars without titles repair the dents and scratches of time and shed the tag of also-rans?

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