DOHA, Qatar — Back in 2010, I wrote a piece for The Times of London about how no nation may match Belgium’s vastly gifted group of children — then aged between 16 and 22 — and puzzled whether or not they may win a World Cup in 2014 or 2018. Unbeknownst to me, Vincent Kompany, already a longtime participant at Manchester City, had puzzled the identical.
“It was a few years before that, I think 2003 or 2004,” he informed me and Julien Laurens once we sat down with him for an episode of “Gab and Juls Meets…”.
“I was only a kid, maybe 17, but I talked about how we Belgians had an inferiority complex, maybe because we’re a small country. But at the youth level at Anderlecht, we had such a strong team and we were beating everybody comfortably — even Real Madrid. And then we’d break into the first team and all of a sudden, we couldn’t compete.”
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And but that technology of Belgian gamers, as a gaggle, did compete. With Kompany as a kind of “big brother” determine, they held the highest spot within the FIFA rankings from 2017 to 2021 and, since 2014, have been by no means exterior the highest 5. What did they have to indicate for it by way of silverware? Three quarterfinal exits and a semifinal run in main tournaments. And now, as they open Qatar 2022 towards Canada on Wednesday night time, the query is whether or not that window of alternative has closed.
At 36 years of age, Kompany is now the supervisor of Burnley, and they’re high of England’s second-flight in his first season in cost. He performed his final recreation for Belgium in 2019, however it’s clear his emotions for the “Red Devils” stay robust.
“We were number one in the world for six or seven years, the consistency was there,” he says. “But it’s a tournament and there’s a draw and anything can happen. And it’s fine margins. Look at what happened in 2018. We’re in the group stage and we play England in the final game, and we know the losing team will have the easier pathway to the final. So what do we do? Of course, we win this game and all of a sudden, we have to get past Japan, Brazil and France.”
Kompany says that ending third on the final World Cup was nonetheless a improbable end result for Belgium, and he is proper. Even the defeat to France within the semifinal, determined by Samuel Umtiti’s purpose, got here with the slimmest of margins. Indeed, it is one of many the peculiarities of the World Cup. Verdicts come via, heroes are anointed, villains are decreed and large carbon footprints generated in drawing conclusions. And but, at most, a group will play seven video games.
“It’s nothing… seven games,” says Kompany. “And a World Cup is unlike anything else. You have to peak at the right time. We were at our peak in 2018 against Brazil in the quarterfinal and we needed to be, because they were so good. And then the semifinal against France was down to set pieces… [France keeper] Hugo Lloris made a great save from Toby Alderweireld, and they score on a near post run off a corner kick. Those are margins. I love participating in World Cups and tournaments like that… I love it. But I never draw conclusions from them. It’s pointless. The best team in the world [rarely] wins the World Cup.”
It’s a part of the merciless attraction of this event. The membership recreation rewards consistency of the kind his previous supervisor, Pep Guardiola, put collectively at Manchester City, profitable 4 of the previous 5 Premier League titles. The World Cup rewards moments, peaks and happenstance. That could be why he is nonetheless bullish on Belgium.
“I think they can [win it],” he says. “Other teams may be favorite as well, but they can win it in the same way Italy won it [in 2006]. With an experienced team, being disciplined and organized and having the advantage of having been together for a long time. And having match-winners and game changers in the team. You need that in tournaments.”
You can see the place he is coming from. There is loads of expertise, from Thibaut Courtois between the posts, to Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen on the again, to Axel Witsel, Kevin De Bruyne and Yannick Carrasco in midfield, to Dries Mertens, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard additional up the pitch.
Sure, Hazard has been injured and had a tough 18 months, whereas Lukaku is straining to return to health and won’t be again for the group stage. And sure, expertise is one other phrase for “old” within the parlance of soccer. But age is extra of an issue over an extended, fixture-congested membership season. Over a couple of weeks in December, even somebody in his mid-thirties can intestine it out. And whereas Hazard and Lukaku stay query marks, who’s to say this is not when all of it randomly comes collectively, even briefly?
Plus, there is no arguing relating to match-winners; maybe solely France and Brazil are extra blessed in that division. Belgium have each a shutdown keeper in Courtois and, arguably, the very best attacking midfielder on the earth in De Bruyne. They solely have to click on on the proper time in a few the correct knockout video games… and who is aware of?
Former Belgium captain Vincent Kompany joins the Gab & Juls Show and descriptions why Kevin De Bruyne is so necessary for his nation.
Having performed with him for years with Belgium and Manchester City, Kompany positively beams when discussing De Bruyne.
“He’s got this thing about him, which is very Belgian… he’s humble,” Kompany says. “That makes him likeable. But beyond that, it’s just his football brain. You give him a plan and he will be directing the orchestra. He sees the plan, he closes his eyes and he sees it. He receives the ball, and he knows already what he’s going to do and he executes it. All you have to is just run and be ready to receive the ball because it will be there. And that’s very special.
“There’s a giant a part of his recreation that you do not see. And it is possibly much more particular than what he does when he has the ball at his ft.”
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Get Kompany talking about Belgium and he radiates excitement. You suspect that if he could, he’d love to be a part of it even now. Heck, he knows that Hazard hasn’t been Hazard for nearly three years, and yet he can’t help but sing his praises: “Kevin executes the plan, Eden would not want a plan, he’s the plan, put him on the pitch and let him go!” Kompany is a grown-up now, a supervisor and ex-pro, however his anticipation and enthusiasm is that of a fan.
His day job is in Burnley as of late, however a part of his coronary heart and soul is along with his band of little brothers in Qatar. The Golden Generation have but to win a trophy. Yes, they’re bruised and battered and possibly may use a polish. But guess what? Gold would not rust. And as Kompany is aware of, in a World Cup, you solely have to shine and shimmer for a few moments, so long as they are the correct moments.