I have been an avid football fan since the age of five, always wanting to know where the superstars of world football play their club football and what country they are from.
The peaks and troughs of a club or country’s form, and the reasons why, has always interested me.
Portuguese football had its golden generation through the 90s with players such as Rui Costa, João Pinto, Luis Figo and Paolo Sousa, who all plied their trades in Europe’s elite leagues.
France burst back onto the scene as a powerhouse in world football in the late 90s via the likes of Zidane, Henry, Anelka, Desailly and Vieira to name a few.
The French scaled the heights of their predessors off the back of its well-documented youth setup under the eyes of coaches like Gerard Houllier and Aime Jacquet.
Over the past 18 months, it has occurred to me from watching leagues like the EPL, Bundesliga and through managing my own EPL Fantasy team, that a country is once again rising in stature in the world game.
From week one of the EPL, I boldy predicted to my fellow ex-NSW State League player flatmate that Belgium would be there or thereabouts come the next two FIFA World Cup finals in Brazil and Russia respectively.
This tiny country has long been overshadowed by its more illustrious football neighbour, The Netherlands.
But now with the new wave of talent coming through, I believe the national team referred to as the ‘Red Devils’ will come close to winning a major football trophy in the next five years. Here’s why.
As an ex semi-professional footballer playing in the NSW State League and the UK, I always feared the teams that were physically gifted (aerial ability and strong on the ball), fast, well structured (clearly defined roles for each player and tactially worked well as a unit) and possessed a touch of flair.
I believe Belgium has many of these qualities and if their players can remain cohesive as a tactical unit, could challenge the more traditional power players in the game.
Let’s run through their current crop of players performing well in some of the best leagues on the planet.
One thing that has struck me about the EPL this year is the quality of goalkeepers gracing the pitches.
Many of the first choice keepers are the number ones for their country: Lloris for Tottenham and France, Cesar for QPR and Brazil, not to mention our own Mark Schwarzer for Fulham.
Simon Mignolet is no exception to this rule and has been in outstanding form in an erratic Sunderland side this season.
The depth in their goalkeeping ranks is also good with the other two keepers, Courtois and Gillet playing for Athletico Madrid and Torino.
When I look at some of the teams in world football on paper, a handful of backlines stand out – Spain, Germany, England to name a few.
Looking at their playing stock, Belgium are also right up there. Kompany (City), Vertonghen (Spurs), Vermaelen (Arsenal) and Van Buyten (Bayern Munich).
All of them are big, tall and strong with great experience.
They have some serious attacking threats in midfield through the likes of Marouane Fellaini, Mousa Dembele and Eden Hazard.
At 25 years of age, Fellaini has lit up the EPL this year with his box-to-box style of play, he’s a great aerial threat and has good feet too for such a tall frame.
Hazard is only 22 years old and has settled in quite nicely at Chelsea after starring for Lille in Ligue 1 last season. He is a player who likes to run at his opponents at pace and can turn on a dime with his low centre of gravity.
A player who possesses this quality is such a valuable asset to any team and compliments the attributes of Fellaini and Dembele, who was once described by his former manager, Martin Jol as probably the best player on the ball I’ve ever seen”.
Not a bad wrap at all. Other midfielders like Axel Witsel have recently attracted big money moves to ambitious European clubs.
Once again, there is no lack of size up front in Christian Benteke and Romelu Lukaku who have both been netting frequently for their respective clubs, Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion.
Combine them with Kevin Mirallas (Everton) and Kevin De Bruyne (Werder Bremen) and you have some very handy options up front.
Currently, Belgium sit equal top in their World Cup qualifying group alongside Croatia, scoring eight goals and only conceding one over four matches.
If this trend continues, we could very well see this dimunitive country with a population of approximately 11 million people, once again reach the upper echelon of world cup achievements emulating sides like that of 1986, when they were beaten in the semi-finals by one of the best Argentinian sides in recent memory.
There is no doubt that the current crop of Belgium footballers are a ‘golden generation’.
It remains to be seen whether they can hold their own with traditional superpowers in football like Spain, Brazil, Argentina or Germany.
But if they can keep their feet on the ground, I would not be surprised to see their name etched on the World Cup in the not too distant future.