World Cup: Can Belgium’s ‘golden generation’ unite a divided country?

Big things are expected of Belgium’s national team at this year’s World Cup. An outstanding line-up that proved invincible during the qualification stage could give the country’s deeply divided regions one good reason to come together.

Photo: AFP

Belgium’s so-called Red Devils will open their World Cup campaign in Brazil on Tuesday as they take the pitch against Algeria in Belo Horizonte.

Boasting an impressive record of 13 wins, four draws, and just three defeats in the past two years, the squad has been dubbed Belgium’s "new golden generation" by commentators, and spirits are high heading into the competition.

“I have good reason to believe that we can achieve great things,” captain Vincent Kompany said at a press conference on the eve of the team’s Word Cup debut.

Nearly the entire Belgian squad plays abroad, with an impressive number of starters in the Premier League.

Kompany is an experienced defender and the cornerstone of Manchester City’s successful title bids in 2012 and 2014. Together with Chelsea goalie Thibaut Courtois, they make scoring against Belgium a struggle for any team.

On offense, the creative talent of attacking midfielder Eden Hazard and the force of striker Romelu Lukaku, both stars at Chelsea, have also become a fearsome combination.

A reflection of Belgium

While the individual talent of its players is unquestionable, the team has been especially noted for being culturally diverse and yet cohesive.

In a country historically divided by French-speaking Walloons and the Dutch-speaking Flemish, the national team reflects the diversity of Belgium's population.

The goalie Courtois is Flemish, while striker Hazard is a Walloon. Kompany and Lukaku are of Congolese background, and the team also counts players of Moroccan origin.

“Most of have been playing together since the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where we reached the semi-finals,” Kompany reminded at Monday’s press conference. “It’s that unity that is our strong suit today.”

Rally around the flag?

As the diverse but united Red Devils make a splash in Brazil, many will be watching if any of the ripples will reach Belgium, which has been without a government for the past four weeks, since Flemish separatists won parliamentary elections on May 25.

The New Flemish Alliance’s current struggle to form a ruling coalition has brought back memories of the political deadlock that Belgium experienced starting in 2009.

After the parliamentary polls of that year, the country spent a record-setting 541 days without a government.

For now, political bickering has given way to unbridled enthusiasm ahead of the team's World Cup debut on Tuesday.

Football fans across the country were wrapping themselves in the black, yellow and red of the national flag.

A poll by the Flemish VTM Nieuws TV revealed that one-quarter of Belgian workers – both Flemish and Walloon – were changing their work schedules to catch the game.

The question remains: inspired by a team that reflects the country’s differences and potential for greatness, can the rare show of Belgian national pride and unity last longer than one World Cup?

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