The current Belgium squad — the one that reached the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup with a 2-1 victory over the mighty Brazil on Friday — is the end product of a golden generation that teased and tormented fans of their free-flowing style for years.
For so long, they were full of promise and potential, but lacked the maturity and/or experience in the big moments to get over the hump. But, now — four years after bowing out in the quarterfinals in Brazil, eight and 12 years after failing to qualify for back-to-back tournaments for the first time since the 1960s — the Red Devils, under carefree, bombastic manager Roberto Martinez, are delivering the goods.
After scoring the game-winning goal on Friday, Kevin De Bruyne spoke of the “power” possessed by this Belgian squad, of how they persevered against one of the most popular pre-tournament favorites, and of how they’re still two more wins from achieving what they set out to do — quotes from the BBC:
“It’s not easy to play Brazil, they are a wonderful team. But the power we have as a team showed today. We were magnificent in the first half.
“Second half it was very difficult, they had a lot of players in the middle. In the last 15 minutes it was a character test and we showed the world what we are capable of.”
“You have to grow as a player and as a team. Obviously it is difficult, in a tournament one loss and you are out but we tried everything. We are here to try and win the World Cup, obviously everyone tries. We are one win away from the game everyone wants to be in.”
As for Martinez, he believes it’s all about the mentality — something which has undoubtedly been fostered in so many of his players as they’ve risen to play for many of the biggest clubs in the world, and how they’ve applied those lessons to do what they’ve done thus far.
“They did it. You saw incredible heart from this team. You have to accept that Brazil have finesse and they will break you down but we did not accept it. This is something special. These boys deserve to be real special people back in Belgium.”
“I never lost a game on the tactics board, it’s the execution that matters and the execution was magnificent. Players have to be brave to change the way we play and we had two days to do it. That is down to desire, they wanted to make it happen.
“It is special. We can’t let them down back home now. We have beaten Brazil in the World Cup, we have created a nice memory, let’s treasure it and pass it down. Now we need more energy for the semifinal.”