Still smart­ing from de­feat, Bel­gium looks to­ward Eu­ros

Pawtucket Times - - SPORTS - By MIKE CORDER

ST. PETERS­BURG, Rus­sia — With the sting of an­other World Cup dis­ap­point­ment still fresh and an oblig­a­tory match re­main­ing, Bel­gium is al­ready weigh­ing how much it will have to re­make its ros­ter to fi­nally win a ma­jor ti­tle.

France’s 1-0 semi­fi­nal de­feat of the Red Devils could be the last World Cup match — apart from Satur­day’s dreaded third-place game — for some vet­eran Bel­gians.

Coach Roberto Mar­tinez now must build on Bel­gium’s best World Cup show­ing since the coun­try lost an­other semi­fi­nal to Diego Maradona-led Ar­gentina in 1986. This Bel­gium gen­er­a­tion had its high hopes of go­ing even fur­ther shat­tered by French de­fender Sa­muel Umtiti’s sec­ond-half headed goal Tues­day in St. Peters­burg.

“As it hap­pens in any big tour­na­ment, you need to look at the younger gen­er­a­tions and try to be­come stronger,” he said af­ter the loss. “From tour­na­ment to tour­na­ment, that’s the drive and the am­bi­tion. Bel­gian foot­ball has got a wealth of young tal­ent com­ing through, and in my role I’ve got the eyes into Euro 2020.”

Bel­gium’s de­fense will need re­newal soon. Vincent Kom­pany is 32 and has al­ready over­come re­peated in­juries in his ca­reer. Jan Ver­tonghen is a year younger. They could stick around for the next Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship in two years, but the 2022 World Cup in Qatar may be a bridge too far.

Mar­tinez, who fa­vors a three-man de­fense, also will be hop­ing that a new wing back breaks through to add to Thomas Me­u­nier, the Paris Saint-Ger­main player who was sus­pended for the semi- fi­nal. Yan­nick Car­rasco, who plays club foot­ball in China, fell out of fa­vor in Rus­sia as Mar­tinez tin­kered with his lineup.

Over the past dozen years, tal­ented teenagers quickly moved on from the drab Bel­gian league to look for tougher chal­lenges abroad. Mid­fielder Eden Hazard took France and then Eng­land by storm, just as goal­keeper Thibaut Courtois quickly rose to the top with Atletico Madrid and Chelsea. Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Toby Alder­weireld and many oth­ers took sim­i­larly pre­co­cious paths.

Re­cently, that well of teenage tal­ent has started dry­ing up. Mid­fielder Youri Tiele­mans, the lat­est of the crop, went from An­der­lecht to Monaco at 20 last year, but has yet to score a goal in the French league and was mostly a bench­warmer in Rus­sia.

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