Belgian icon Vincent Kompany believes they can win the World Cup


Doha, Qatar — In 2010, I wrote a piece for The Times of London on how no country could match Belgium’s hugely talented group of youngsters – then between the ages of 16 and 22 – and wondered whether they could win the World Cup in 2014 or 2018 . The established player at Manchester City thought the same.

“It was a few years before that, I think 2003 or 2004,” he told me and Julianne Lawrence when we sat down with him for an episode of “Gab and Jules Meet…”.

“I was only a kid, maybe 17 years old, but I talked about how we Belgians had an inferiority complex, probably because we are a small country. But at the youth level in Anderlecht, we had It was such a strong team and we were beating everybody.” Easy – even Real Madrid. And then we got into the first team and suddenly, we couldn’t compete.”

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And yet that generation of Belgian players as a group competed. With Kompany as his “big brother”, he held the top spot in the FIFA rankings from 2017 to 2021 and, since 2014, has never been outside the top five. What did they have to show for it in the case of silverware? In major tournaments there are three quarter-final exits and one semi-final run. And now, as they open Qatar 2022 against Canada on Wednesday night, the question is whether the window of opportunity has closed.

At the age of 36, Kompany is now manager of Burnley, and they topped England’s second flight in his first season in charge. He played his last game for Belgium in 2019, but it is clear that his feelings for the “Red Devils” are strong.

“We were number one in the world for six or seven years, there was consistency,” he says. “But it’s a tournament and a draw and anything can happen. And it’s a good margin. Look what happened in 2018. We’re in the group stage and we play England in the last game, and we know that losing The team with the highest score will have an easier route to the final. So what do we do? Of course, we win the game and suddenly, we have to beat Japan, Brazil and France.

Kompany says that finishing third at the last World Cup was still a great result for Belgium, and he is right. Even the defeat to France in the semi-finals, which was decided by a goal from Samuel Umtiti, came by a very narrow margin. In fact, it is one of the specialties of the World Cup. Verdicts come, heroes are anointed, villains are judged and a massive carbon footprint is generated in the making of the conclusion. And yet, at most, a team will play seven games.

“It’s nothing…seven games,” says Kompany. “And a World Cup is unlike anything else. You have to peak at the right time. We were at our peak in the quarter-finals against Brazil in 2018 and we needed to do that because they were so good. And then France Was the semi-final against. Down to set the pieces… [France keeper] Hugo Lloris makes a brilliant save from Toby Alderweireld, and he scores at the near post from a corner kick. Those are margins. I love participating in the World Cup and tournaments like this… I love it. But I never draw conclusions from them. it is pointless. best team in the world [rarely] wins the World Cup.”

It’s part of the brutal appeal of this tournament. The club game rewards the consistency of their old manager, Pep Guardiola, who won four of the last five Premier League titles together at Manchester City. The World Cup rewards moments, peaks and events. This is probably the reason why he is still bullish on Belgium.

“I think they can [win it]” he says. “Other teams may be favourites, but they can win it the way Italy won it [in 2006], With an experienced team, being disciplined and organized and having the advantage of being together for a long time. And to be a match winner and game changer in the team. You need that in tournaments.”

You can see where its coming from. Between the posts there is plenty of experience from Thibaut Courtois to Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen at the backs, from Axel Witsel, Kevin De Bruyne and Yannick Carrasco to Dries Mertens, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard in midfield.

Sure, Hazard has been injured and had a difficult 18 months, while Lukaku is pressing to return to fitness and may not be back for the group stage. And yes, experience is another word for “old” in football parlance. But age is more of a problem in a long, fixture-crowded club season. Over a couple of weeks in December, even someone in their mid-thirties can pull it off. And while Hazard and Lukaku remain question marks, who’s to say it isn’t when it all randomly comes together, even briefly?

Also, there is no debate when it comes to match winners; Perhaps only France and Brazil are more blessed in that department. Belgium has a shutdown keeper in Courtois and, arguably, the best attacking midfielder in the world in De Bruyne. They only need to click at the right time in a few perfect knockout games… and who knows?

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Former Belgium captain Vincent Kompany joined the Gab & Jules show and explained why Kevin De Bruyne is so important to his country.

Kompany beams positively when discussing De Bruyne, after playing alongside him over the years with Belgium and Manchester City.

“There’s this thing about him, which is very Belgian…he’s polite,” says Kompany. “It makes him likable. But beyond that, it’s just his football brain. You give him a plan and he’ll direct the orchestra. He sees the plan, he closes his eyes and he sees it. He Gets the ball, and he already knows what he’s going to do and he executes it. You just have to run and be ready to get the ball because it’s going to be there. And that’s very special.

“There’s a big part of his game that you don’t see. And it’s probably even more special than when he has the ball at his feet.”

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Get the company talking about Belgium and it oozes enthusiasm. You suspect that if he could, he’d still want to be a part of it. Heck, he knows Hazzard hasn’t been Hazzard for almost three years, and yet he can’t help but sing his praises: “Kevin executes the plan, Eden doesn’t need a plan, he plans, Pitch him and let him go!” Kompany is all grown up now, a manager and ex-pro, but his anticipation and enthusiasm is that of a fan.

His day job these days is at Burnley, but part of his heart and soul is with his band of younger brothers in Qatar. The Golden Generation is yet to win a trophy. Yes, they are bruised and battered and could probably use a polish. but guess what? Gold doesn’t rust. And as the company knows, at the World Cup, you only need a few moments to shine and shine, as long as they’re the right moments.

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