Belgium and the others, the successful losers!
The curtain sadly falls on the Belgian Golden Generation. The Red Devils, who for a long time were in first place in the FIFA rankings and for a decade had a roster full of world-class players, finished the 2022 World Cup in Qatar with an incredible elimination in the first round.
In this article, we’ll look at which national teams have always come up short when it came to winning the championship.
BELGIUM 2016 – 2022
In their group, which included Croatia, Morocco, and Canada, Roberto Martinez’s men picked up just a narrow victory against the Canadians before losing to the North Africans and achieving a pointless draw with the Balkans. Everything went bad for this team, even the words of all-rounder Kevin de Bruyne, who had previously stated that the team was “too old.”
After all, the national team coach relied for the last time on the Manchester City midfielder, but also on other players of an exceptional generation, who showed much less than expected. Hazard, Vertonghen, Witsel, Mertens, and Alderweireld are all getting old, so they probably won’t play in another World Cup. Even Lukaku, Courtois, and Carrasco, who aren’t quite as old, will be there in 2026 well before their time.
And thus ends an era that seemed to promise a lot but that, in the end, only brought a third place in the world to Russia in 2018 and many disappointments. At world cup level, the quarterfinals arrived in 2014, with the early elimination in Qatar. At the European Championships, the Belgians stopped in the quarterfinals both in 2016 and 2020, and even in the Nations League, they never went beyond fourth place.
Enough to bring this Belgium, even if it is not among the first favorites for World Cup bets, into the group of splendid losers, the national ones that had everything to win but which, for some reason, never did.
NETHERLANDS 1974 – 1980
And it is impossible, also due to geographical proximity, not to think of the neighbors in the Netherlands. The Orange team of the 1970s, led by Johan Cruijff, Neeskens, and many other champions, came close to victory twice but failed to establish itself. Sure, the mark that Oranje Total Football has left on football globally is indelible, but as they say, it doesn’t do palmarès.
And the rolls of honor will never mention the Dutch national team, which even in 1974 and 1978 seemed well equipped to lift the World Cup. In both cases, however, the Netherlands had the misfortune of facing the hosts in the final act.
In Germany, the final started well with the penalty converted by Neeskens in the second minute, but then Breitner and Gerd Müller gave the victory to Mannschaft. It’s worse in Argentina, because in that case the Dutch are really close to glory. With the run level, Rensenbrink hit the post in the last minute, and the match ended in extra time with Argentina winning.
And at the European Championships, how was Holland doing? In 1972, it did not qualify for the final phase; in 1976, it finished third; and in 1980, it stopped in the first round.
To see the Netherlands, lift their only international trophy, we will have to wait for another great generation, that of Van Basten, Gullit, Rijkaard, Koeman, and company, which prevailed in the 1988 European Championships but nevertheless fell victim to the curse of world class, never getting close to glory.
ENGLAND 2002 – 2012
The fact that the Belgian Golden Generation has not achieved results does not make it any less indigestible to the English that theirs too has failed to leave a mark in the history of football.
And to think that the Three Lions had great champions for at least a decade: Beckham, Rooney, Lampard, Gerrard, Scholes, Owen, Ferdinand—all players who helped their clubs write football history but had major problems when called up to the national team.
In the heyday of this generation, the one that goes from the 2002 World Cup to the 2012 European Championships, disappointments have accumulated without stopping.
In Japan and South Korea, England stopped in the quarter-finals, as well as in Euro 2004. The same thing happened at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, when England appeared to be favorites only to lose on penalties to Portugal.
But they could do worse: at the 2008 European Championships, those of Austria and Switzerland, the Three Lions managed the feat of not even qualifying. In 2010, England’s bad luck kept going in South Africa. Their hopes were crushed by Germany with a net score of 4-1, which left sports betting experts and predictions speechless.
The swan song of that generation arrives in 2012 with yet another stop in the quarterfinals, this time at the hands of Prandelli’s Italy. The real danger is that history will repeat itself with the current generation, as a fourth-place finish in the 2018 World Cup and a second-place finish in Euro 2021 have His Majesty’s fans believing that history can repeat itself.
ARGENTINA 1998 – 2006
It is not limited to European teams; Argentina at the turn of the millennium is an example that should not be overlooked in South America.Maradona’s absence reflects on the Albiceleste of subsequent editions, which fails to win anything after Diez’s farewell despite a squad full of champions (Batistuta, Crespo, Veron, Samuel, Cambiasso, Riquelme, to name a few).
Already in 1998, things didn’t go very well, with elimination in the quarterfinals, but the worst moment came in 2002, when the team, led on the bench by Marcelo Bielsa, was eliminated in the first round, something that hadn’t happened for 40 years.
And even in 2006, things did not go well, with the generation of champions at the farewell stage saying goodbye by losing in the quarterfinals to Germany on penalties. In the same period, there was also zero satisfaction in the Copa America, with a second place and many scorching eliminations.
And the problems for the Argentines also continued with the next generation, that of Messi, Mascherano, Higuain, and Di Maria, who saw the World Cup up close in 2014 but stopped on the second step of the podium. Some of them managed to break the curse by winning the Copa America in 2021, but for others, it will forever remain the label of “splendid losers.”