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Old betrayals and the former coach of Spartak: why Belgium is so cool

The Belgian national team starts at the Euro with a match with the Slovak team. Sports tells why this team, torn apart by scandals from within, is even capable of winning in Germany.
The path to the EuroAs part of the qualifying tournament, the Belgians took first place in Group F (Austria, Sweden, Estonia, Azerbaijan). On the way to the Euro, the team was defeated twice (5:0 in games against Estonians and Azerbaijanis), and their forward Romelu Lukaku became the top scorer of the tournament with 14 goals. Also, the Belgian national team played successfully in the last friendly matches – they defeated Montenegro (2:0) and Luxembourg (3:0), and a draw was recorded with England (2:2).
Head coach – greetings from Spartak Whom the Russian fan will definitely be interested in following in the Belgian national team is the head coach. And in the literal sense, because Domenico Tedesco, even during his time at Spartak Moscow, showed that he is one of the most emotional specialists in world football. Running along the sidelines, shouting, active gestures, wild celebrations – we will almost certainly see all this at the European Championships. The only question is what will be the reason to get emotional.

“Spartak” under Tedesco played nice counter-attacking football and consistently won important matches, and the coach's violent temper only helped the team to be charged with emotions at moments when raw skill was not enough. It was after Tedesco that the club’s bosses became convinced that Spartak’s team needed an emotional, active coach – they say it’s the kind of person on the sideline that best reflects the team spirit.

There were, however, unsuccessful periods in the career of the German-Italian coach. For example, before Spartak, he almost failed with Schalke in the second Bundesliga, for which he was hastily fired. The same fate almost befell Leipzig, which Domenico headed after leaving Moscow. And Tedesco himself too.
In the Belgian national team, however, things went much more cheerfully, although from the point of view of the team in the new team, Domenico expected something reminiscent of Spartak in its worst periods. The team is torn apart by scandals, the main of which unfolded between two honored veterans Kevin De Bruyne and Thibaut Courtois. Once upon a time, De Bruyne, on the pages of his autobiography, accused his ex-girlfriend of cheating on him with Courtois. True, the beauty later said that the football player went left first, and with her friend at that. But for a decade now, all Belgian coaches have been tormented by the problem of the compatibility of these two guys on the team, fortunately both are still world-class stars. And in Tedesco himself, as they say, sometimes things are not so smooth with the microclimate.

Remnants of the “golden generation” The turbulent state of the locker room reflects the spirit of the times. The Belgians have long been favorites in all major national team tournaments. They should have made it to Euro 2016, the 2018 World Championships, and Euro 2020. Everywhere they were almost the main favorites due to an unprecedentedly talented generation – when you have Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Toby Alderweireld, Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen, Axel Witsel, Yannick Carrasco, Marouane Fellaini, De Bruyne, Courtois and others in your lineup, you you simply do not have the right to return home without trophies.

But they came back, and the bronze of the 2018 World Cup remained the only medal for the team that was predicted to become dominant. Years passed, the core became older, and somehow, unnoticed by everyone, the “young and hungry” Belgians turned into aged and unmotivated. And now one of the long-term leaders of the national team, Witsel, says the following: “We are no longer among the favorites. I rather consider us outsiders.”

This is, of course, an understatement, but among the top teams, the Belgians really do not stand out so much. De Bruyne, although he remains the smartest and most technical midfielder, has become heavier and has lost speed by the age of 32. Courtois, one of the best goalkeepers in the world, was not included in the squad at all, either because of an injury from which he recovered only recently, or in order to preserve the atmosphere in the team. Lukaku is only 31, and he has not become a great forward, although he had everything for this. He scores a lot (about 400 goals in his career, more than 80 for the national team), but at decisive moments he lets down too often. Hazard ended his career at just over 30.
But in terms of a combination of experience and youth, the Belgian team still looks very interesting – their star veterans are capable of bright performances, but support is critically important to them. Especially in defense, where the main old-timer of the current team plays – 37-year-old Vertonghen.

Who will surprise? One of those who can support the leaders can be considered 23-year-old Charles De Ketelare, who won the Europa League last season as part of the Italian Atalanta. The tall (over 190 cm) midfielder became a Milan player in 2022, but failed to gain a foothold in the fashion capital – his outstanding endurance and clumsiness prevented him. However, Atalanta head coach Gianpiero Gasperini was not at all embarrassed by De Ketelare’s shortcomings, and he became the most important part of the team, known, characteristically, for extremely aggressive pressing, for which a powerful “breathing” is a mandatory attribute.

Fans have the right expect a lot from other young players in the national team, such as midfielders Arthur Vermeeren (Atlético, 19 years old), Amadou Onana (Everton, 22), Aster Vranckx (Wolfsburg, 21), forwards Jeremy Doku (Manchester City) , 22), Johan Bakayoko (PSV, 21) and Lois Openda (Leipzig, 24).

Is Lukaku a trump card or an Achilles heel? One of the main features of the Belgian national team is the vast experience of its leaders. All the main stars of the team have gone through many major tournaments together and have a great idea of ​​what awaits them in Germany. They are still strong individually and are not so catastrophically old that they fall apart after the group stage.

In at least two lines – midfield and attack – the Belgians have some of the best performers among all Euro participants. Given Tedesco's standard formation (4-3-3), it is attacking football that the Belgians will rely on. De Bruyne has already verbally thought about moving to the Saudi Arabian championship, but there is no doubt about his ability to make the final pass. Carrasco and Youri Tielemans still look decent, and Witsel is scorching in defense and in the middle of the field, despite his advanced age (35 years).
None of the forwards from the other participating teams has scored more goals for the national team than Lukaku. He is physically strong, tall and at the same time extremely fast – purely according to the registration certificate, this is a real car.
At the same time, Lukaku can be considered both a trump card and a source of problems. Having a simply colossal number of goals in relation to matches played (85 to 115), at the same time he misses catastrophically a lot. A paradox because of which Romelu’s career was not so impressive. The Belgian defensive line does not look too confident, and of the goalkeepers called up to the national team (Thomas Kaminski, Matz Sels and Kuhn Castells), not one played 10 matches at the national team level. Such an imbalance can cause problems with more well-coordinated teams, such as the national teams of France or England.
What are the chances? Considering not the most difficult group (E – Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania), the Belgians have every chance of reaching the playoffs from the first places. This will allow Tedesco's team to get a relatively easy opponent in the 1/8 finals (third place of the other group) and advance to the 1/4. Further, everything will depend on luck – at this stage, stronger and more balanced teams are expected than the Belgian one.

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