The 2022 FIFA World Cup saw the downfall of yet another Golden Generation. This year, it was Belgium’s turn to disappoint. Since their current crop of players came to the fore around the time of the 2014 World Cup, the Red Devils have gone on to achieve a relative level of success. They reached the quarterfinals that year, as well as reached the last eight of the European Championships in 2016 and 2020.
At the World Cup four years ago in Russia, the Belgians did achieve their greatest-ever finish when they secured third place by defeating England 2-0 in the bronze medal match. Heading into Qatar 2022, Belgium weren’t considered one of the favourites by OddsChecker, which compares football odds and offers. The bookies instead preferred the likes of Brazil, Argentina, and France, two of which contested the final. And in hindsight, it’s clear to see why.
Belgium were in disarray this winter. Rifts in the camp between goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and starman Kevin De Bruyne – who famously stated that his side was “too old” to lift the famous gold trophy – were issues that manager Roberto Martinez just couldn’t resolve. As such, it was no surprise that the Red Devils crashed out in the group stages.
But how do the Belgians stack up against England’s golden generation?
Another generation which disappointed
During the “golden generation” of English football, the Three Lions saw some of the best players the country has ever produced. From the 2002 FIFA World Cup to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the team was led by a cohort of wildly talented players, including David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, and John Terry.
At the 2002 World Cup, England advanced to the quarterfinals but were eliminated by eventual champions Brazil. Despite the loss, it was an impressive tournament for Sven Göran Eriksson’s side, which included a 1-0 win over Argentina in the group stage.
The team’s performance at Euro 2004 was even better. England again advanced to the quarterfinals, where they were defeated by tournament hosts Portugal in a penalty shootout. They would be defeated by the same nation at the same stage at the 2006 World Cup. England once again advanced to the quarters but were eliminated by Portugal in a penalty shootout.
Things would get even worse in the years that followed. Eriksson and England parted ways following the 2006 tournament, allowing his assistant Steve McLaren to take over. But that ill-fated appointment ended in disaster when England failed to qualify for Euro 2008.
They would qualify for the 2010 World Cup, however, this too would end in devastating fashion. The Three Lions met Germany in a heavyweight second-round clash, but a young Die Mannschaft side had far too much for their English counterparts and ran out 4-1 winners.
The golden generation of English football can only be seen as a disappointment, similar to that of Belgium. The team reached the quarterfinals in three consecutive tournaments, before falling off a cliff.
The brightest spark during the period was undoubtedly Wayne Rooney. He became England’s all-time leading goalscorer – a record which has since been matched by Harry Kane – and was the second top scorer at Euro 2004, despite being aged just 18.
So, who performed better?
There can be no denying that Belgium’s golden generation outperformed England’s. Three quarter-finals as well as a third place at Russia 2018 is head and shoulders above the three consecutive quarterfinals that England could muster. One may point to the fact that two of those last-eight defeats came via a penalty shootout, but that, for us, is no excuse.
By the same token, however, it was unfortunate that both eras came to a screeching halt. Belgium’s group stage exit this year is a wound that will take some time to heal, as was the case with England’s mauling at the hands of Germany in 2010.
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