With Ireland’s chances of reaching Brazil now all but extinguished, I’ve decided it’s time to change my allegiances and support another team in next year’s showpiece – Belgium!
About two years ago I started spotting a growing number of Belgian imports signing for top European clubs. This trickle has turned into a cascade with Belgian footballers becoming the ‘in thing’. Household names now include Thibaut Courtois, Simon Mignolet, Daniel Van Buyten, Vincent Kompany, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Axel Witsel, Kevin De Bruyne, Marouane Fellaini, Mousa Dembélé, Nacer Chadli, Eden Hazard, Christian Benteke, Kevin Mirallas, Dries Mertens and Romelu Lukaku.
Remarkably, even though Belgium have not qualified for the 2014 World Cup yet, they are as short as 18-1 to lift the FIFA World Cup Trophy next summer. That’s shorter than the Netherlands, England, France, Portugal and Italy! It’s even more amazing given that Belgium were last seen at a major tournament way back in 2002, when losing 2 – 0 to Brazil in the Kobe City Misaki Park Stadium, Japan.
Their record from 2002 to 2012 has not been impressive. The table beside outlines their qualification performance and seeding (column S) in Euro’s 2004, 2008 and 2012 and World Cup’s 2006 and 2010. The country failed to qualify for a single tournament in this period. In fact, Belgium hit an all-time low in the Coca-Cola FIFA World Rankings in June 2007 when they were ranked 71 in the world.
However since mid-2012 this has all begun to change. The Belgian’s are now ranked six in the world! The contrast in fortunes with the Republic of Ireland in the past twelve months is stark.
On the plus side for the Irish set-up, this goes to prove that our current slide is in no way irreversible. In fact, as late as June 2012 Belgium were ranked 54 in the world and Ireland 18. Maybe before the FAI hire a new manager they should send someone to Belgium for the weekend and find out what they’ve done recently…quite a lot, it seems.