ST PETERSBURG (Reuters) - Bitter defeat for Belgium in the World Cup semi-final is tempered by the fact that influential squad members will likely still be around in two years’ time for the European Championship where they will have another realistic chance at a major title.
The country’s ‘golden generation’ had high hopes of a first-ever appearance in a World Cup final but came up short on Tuesday as neighbours France edged them 1-0 at the Saint Petersburg Stadium.
But if there is any consolation, it will be that many will return to try again at the Euro 2020 tournament where, should they qualify comfortably, Belgium will be among the favourites.
“Belgian football has got a wealth of young talent coming through and in my role, I’ve got an eye on the Euros in 2020,” said coach Roberto Martinez, who signed a two-year contract extension to take him through to 2020 just weeks before the World Cup kicked off.
“It’s too early to make a sort of assessment of the (Russia) tournament at the moment, we need to focus on that final game, coming back to St Petersburg and facing the opportunity of fighting for that third place.
“Then we’ll need to regroup again, as it happens after any tournament, we need to look at the younger generation and try to become stronger from tournament to tournament. There is the drive and ambition,” he added.
Belgium play on Saturday against the loser of Wednesday’s semi-final between Croatia and England in the third place playoff.
Players like captain Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois are still aged under 28 and will be eager to have another chance.
“The disappointment is massive but we must be realistic. We have had a good tournament, even the match against France was good, and we can be proud despite the fact that we lost,” said De Bruyne.
“There was little difference between us and France and, in the end, it was just one corner that proved decisive.”
Belgium’s best international performances have been European Championship runners-up in 1980 and now two World Cup semi-finals, the first of which was in 1986.
Asked whether being knocked out of the World Cup represented the last chance for a talented group of players who have promised much in recent years, Courtois said: “I don’t know. The Euros are only two years away.”
Editing by Christian Radnedge