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Belgium’s Golden Generation Fails Again

Roberto Martinez

Romelu Lukaku punched the side of the dugout and was consoled as he sat with his shirt pulled over his head after the 0-0 draw with Croatia and it was clearly an outpouring of frustration for his role in Belgium’s early exit from the World Cup.

But perhaps it was also frustration at what feels like an untimely end of an era for Belgium’s ‘golden generation’.

Belgium’s failure is the latest disappointment for a talented set of players who have repeatedly underwhelmed when it really matters on the world stage.

Manager Roberto Martinez hugged his players individually at full-time in what he later confirmed was his “farewell” at the expiry of his contract.

During his six years in charge, Martinez has had a squad packed full of superstars such as Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne, Real Madrid’s Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois and on-loan Inter Milan striker Lukaku.

And yet they never reached a major final despite being ranked world number one from September 2018 to March 2022. Their highest finish was third at the World Cup in 2018.

Belgium’s starting XI had an average age of 31 years and 95 days against Croatia – the oldest for any side at a World Cup since 2010.

Is this the end of a golden era for Belgian football?

“No, you’ve got players like Amadou Onana and Jeremy Doku. The ‘golden generation’ is doing something to bring the next generation on,” said Martinez.

“It’s not necessarily what happens on the pitch. The legacy can be left in many ways. Now the standards need to carry on rising and the young players need to carry on this line.”

Despite failing to reach the knockout stages, Martinez said “there was no regrets” and Belgium can “leave with our heads held high”.

“We wanted to get through but I’m sure the other national teams wanted to get through and that’s the tournament,” he told BBC One.

“In the previous World Cup we won three games in the group stage, we wanted to go all the way.”

Belgium’s tournament never really got going in Qatar. They only won one of their three group matches and scored just once.

“The first few games we were fearful and not the team we are. We listened to noise from outside and felt responsibility. We played thinking we could lose and be out and that’s what cost us,” said Martinez.

“I felt if we had gone through then we would have seen the real Belgium.”