It didn’t take long for Belgium to remind us all exactly why they’ve been tipped to win a major trophy for well over half a decade now.
The ‘Golden Generation’ has not produced the goods so far, coming closest in the 2018 World Cup when they reached the semi-finals, only to be beaten by eventual winners France. And plenty of critics saw that painful exit as the disappointing end of this particular crop of stars.
The growing feeling among some corners of the football world is that this squad is beyond its peak, and with former Wigan and Everton coach Roberto Martinez at the helm, we cannot take them seriously as favourites for a trophy.
It’s time to nip that particular narrative in the bud, however. Belgium remain a force to be reckoned with, and the frightening ease with which they dispatched of Russia in their own backyard tells you all you need to know about the Red Devils, Euro 2020 (+1) edition.
From back to front, there is talent oozing through this squad. Thibaut Courtois had little to prove on Saturday evening, but he is one of the best goalkeepers in the world. When the time comes for him to step in and save his team, he’ll be ready.
The backline is one of the major causes for concern among Belgian supporters, with the ageing Jan Vertonghen and far from elite Dedryck Boyata acting as two-thirds of the defence. The fact that 35-year-old Thomas Vermaelen still makes the squad suggests they’re still waiting for the next golden generation of centre-backs to come through.
But they are no mugs, either. Experience counts for plenty, and with Toby Alderweireld in the back three, they’ll know how to get the best out of each other and how to hide one another’s deficiencies.
The midfield is crammed with talent, too. Even without talisman Kevin De Bruyne, Martinez was able to fall back on some wonderful alternatives, with Youri Tielemans, Thorgan Hazard and Leander Dendoncker all impressing.
Then of course, there’s the attack. Yannick Carrasco and Dries Mertens played their supporting roles superbly, but as always, it was all about Romelu Lukaku. The striker is coming off the back of a title-winning season with Inter, where, although he bagged fewer goals this year, his overall performance levels were arguably higher.
He kicked off the scoring with a clever finish when the opportunity presented itself, and rounded it off with an equally potent strike. Two goals, one with his left foot and one with his right – an all-round wonderful footballer.
In Lukaku, Belgium boast some serious firepower, and with such firepower comes a shot at glory. It was he who made the difference for Inter this year, and his growth as a player means he not only grabs the headlines, but he can cast his teammates into the spotlight, too.
All in all, it was a job well done. The game was killed off as a contest on 34 minutes by Thomas Meunier’s strike, but in reality, it was done and dusted after the opener. Belgium controlled the game, toying with Russia and keeping all hope of a comeback well out of arm’s reach.
It was a professional job, performed by a top set of players, working under an innovative and underrated boss. Don’t rule them out, folks, Belgium fancy themselves for a crack at this one.