The last time Belgium qualified for a major competition was the 2002 World Cup. Surely, that drought is about to end. The nation of just 10 million people has assembled a simply amazing set of young prospects. Clubs all over Europe have been snapping up these players over the last couple of seasons.
Unfortunately, Euro 2012 would prove to come a little bit too quickly for this generation. Belgium should have made it to the playoffs at least, but threw away too many points by conceding late goals.
The match on Wednesday against the Netherlands, though, showed that the Rode Duivels have turned the corner and are about to become a force to be reckoned with.
The match against the Dutch was of critical importance for the Belgians. They were desperate to beat their arch-rivals, and in doing so, claim their first big scalp. They needed this win get their confidence up that they can be as good as advertised and that the days of underachieving are over. They played with this sort of desperation throughout the match.
Christian Benetke gave Belgium the early lead in the first half, but the Dutch would strike back. After the goal, the Dutch controlled the game and scored two goals in a two-minute span in the second half to turn the game on its head.
This is where the old Belgium would have fallen apart. However, manager Marc Wilmots has installed a different attitude in the side. They came roaring back and forced Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg to make several excellent saves. Again, Belgium would not give in and kept turning the screw.
With just under 20 minutes left, the Rode Duivels exploded. They scored three goals in a five-minute span and won the match, 4-2. Dries Mertens coming on would prove to be the catalyst for the turnaround, as he played a role in all three goals. The fact that a player of his caliber wasn’t able to make it into the first team shows how much depth the team has. The joy was evident on the faces of the Belgian players and coaches after the full-time whistle blew.
Critics may point to the fact that brilliant striker Robin Van Persie didn’t play a single second. That did not change the outcome of the match, however, as Belgium were clearly the better team and could have scored more then four.
In addition to that, the Football Association's player of the year, Vincent Kompany, didn’t play at all either. Also, the very steady defender, Nicolas Lombaerts didn’t play either for Belgium, which also hurt them at the back.
There was never any doubting that Belgium has an incredible amount of young talent. However, many wondered if they would ever be able to learn to play together and produce results. The win over the Dutch shows that they have been able to put those doubts aside, and it will give them a lot of confidence going into qualifying.
In addition to that, Belgium got a very favorable draw with the likes of Croatia, Serbia, Scotland, Wales, and Macedonia, which they should be able to navigate through with little trouble. The Rode Duivels are ready to return to major competitions and should be able to make a lot of noise once they get there.