Belgium falls to Italy and seeks silver lining

Euro 2016 in particular will be a source of regret, the best chance the country had of winning anything. The same goes for the fact that this tournament has been delayed for a year. If Euro 2020 had actually taken place in 2020, Belgium would have been a year younger, a year cooler. Maybe it could have made all the difference.

Certainly, some of its pillars are running out of time. Vermaelen is 35, Vertonghen 34 and Alderweireld 32. Witsel, Nacer Chadli and Dries Mertens are also in the fall of their careers. Even Hazard – only 30 years old, but plagued with injuries in the past two years – could now be on an accelerated descent from his stupendous peak. For some, if not all, the next major tournament, in Qatar next winter, is probably a step too far.

Belgium’s golden generation – this team that has only undergone the most cosmetic changes since that first tournament in 2014 – will never make that final leap, never win anything, not like they were supposed to, not together.

And yet there is also a misunderstanding here, because when the clock strikes midnight, nothing stops. It just means that a new day is starting. Generations do not rise and fall in perfect synchronicity; they fold, relate and merge into each other.

Vermaelen, Vertonghen and Witsel might not qualify for the next World Cup, but Youri Tielemans and Yannick Carrasco and Timothy Castagne will. Likewise, crucially, De Bruyne and Lukaku will. Belgium will not disappear. The binary – winning something now or being condemned to unworthiness forever – is and always has been an illusion. Martínez, if he stays in place, could still take a formidable side in Qatar.

Add a Comment