Belgium National Football Team
Belgium National Football is one of the pioneers in European football, but for decades, international footballing success has evaded the country. Historians say that Belgium was the first country on the European mainland where football was first played. But, the nation infamously earned the nickname “World Champions Of Friendlies” because of their repeated failures in international competitions.
But despite the “failures,” Belgium is no slouch. In fact, it has played 14 World Cup finals; its best run came in 2018 when it finished third. The Western European country has also featured in six European championships. A runner-up finish in the Euro 1980 is its best achievement in the competition.
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Wednesday November 23 – Belgium vs Canada (Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan; kick-off 8pm).
Sunday November 27 – Belgium vs Morocco (Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor; kick-off 2pm).
Thursday December 1 – Croatia vs Belgium (Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan; kick-off 4pm).
Belgium National Football Team: The “World Champion of Friendlies”
Belgium National Football Team History
British students and teachers popularized football in Belgium in the early 1860s. In 1896, the UBSSA (Union Belge des Sociétés de Sports Athlétiques), the predecessor to the present-day Royal Belgian Football Association, was founded. In the same year, the UBSSA started the first domestic football league in Belgium.
Belgium National Football International Debut
The Belgium National Football Team played its first international match against France at the Stade du Vivier d’Oie on May 1, 1904. On May 21, Belgium and France became the founding members of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). Belgium also co-founded the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) in 1954.
A year later, Belgium played its neighbor, the Netherlands, for the first time. Afterward, it became a tradition for these two teams to play each other twice a year. Belgium would play its home games in Amsterdam, while the Dutch welcomed the Belgians in Rotterdam for the reverse fixture. The Belgian-Dutch Cup was a regular tournament till 1925.
The year 1905 also saw the birth of the nickname “The Red Devils.” We mostly associate Manchester United with the Red Devils moniker, but the truth is, the Premier League giants did not embrace that name until the ’70s. The Belgium national football team is the original Red Devils in football. After a Low Countries Derby between the Netherlands and Belgium in 1905, a match report published in a Dutch newspaper said that the Belgium players “worked as devils” throughout the match. Sports reporter Pierre Walckiers coined the “The Red Devils” nickname after the Belgium players wearing red shirts defeated the Netherlands 3-2 in Rotterdam. It has stuck ever since.
The Inter-War Years
Like all other sporting activities, football endured a slowdown during World War I years in Belgium. The Red Devils would make their first competitive tournament appearance in the Antwerp 1920 Summer Olympics. Belgium won the gold medal after Czechoslovakia players left the pitch 39 minutes into the final in protest of the red card shown to Karel Steiner. Belgium was 2-0 up at that point and was declared winners.
However, Belgium failed to replicate this success in its 1930 World Cup appearance. The Belgium National Football Team lost 3-0 to the US in its opening match before falling to a 1-0 defeat against Paraguay. As a result, Belgium finished bottom of Group 4. In fact, Belgium had to wait for forty more years to taste its first World Cup group stage victory.
The Post-War Years
Belgium would make its first post-WWII World Cup appearance in the 1954 World Cup. The Belgians entered the fray as one of the favorites, with great players like Henri “Rik” Coppens, Louis Carré, and Léopold “Pol” Anoul. In its first match, Belgium played out a 4-4 draw with England, but it suffered a humiliating 1-4 defeat to Italy in the next match and crashed out of the group stages.
However, while Belgium would not make waves in international competitions until the ’70s, they would often win against the best teams in friendly matches. For this reason, Brazil legend Pelé called the Belgium National Football Team “The World Champions of Friendlies,” taking a dig at the nation’s lack of impact in international competitions.
The tide started to turn for Belgium in the ’70s. Belgium picked up its first victory in a World Cup match in 1970 when it beat El Salvador 3-0. Regardless of Belgium’s group stage elimination, it was a step in the right direction.
Two years after its 1970 World Cup campaign, Belgium would end its winless run in the European championships, as goals from Raoul Lambert and Paul Van Himst brought Belgium a 2-1 victory over Hungary in the Euro 1972 third-place-deciding match.
Belgium then mounted a formidable title charge in Euro 1980. Belgium was drawn with Spain, England, and host nation Italy in Group 2. Belgium started its Euro campaign with a 1-1 draw against England before winning 2-1 against Spain.
In the final group match, Belgium only needed to avoid defeat against Italy to book a place in the final. Guy Thys’s men survived a ferocious Stadio Olimpico crowd to hold Italy to a goalless draw. The Red Devils returned to the stadium to face West Germany in the final. Horst Hrubesch scored in the 10th minute to put West Germany ahead. René Vandereycken restored parity in the 75th minute by converting a penalty, but Hrubesch struck again in the final minutes to snatch away the title for Germany.
A Long Hiatus
From 1982 to 2022, Belgium has never failed to qualify for the World Cup. And it hasn’t been that regular in Euros, either. After making the final in Euro 1980, Belgium qualified for the 1984 tournament. After that, it was absent for 16 years in the competition, only to return in 2000 before taking another 16-year European hiatus.
But, in Euro 2016, Belgium reached the quarterfinals. The Red Devils were one of the tournament’s strongest teams. Were it not for surprise-package Wales eliminating them from the quarters, they may well have gone even further. Unfortunately, the same fate awaited Belgium in 2020, and they went out of the Euro quarterfinals again.
Belgium National Football Team World Cup Results
As for the World Cup, after making the semifinals in 1986 in Mexico, the Belgium National Football Team would not return to the last eight of the tournament until 2014. In 2018, it would make the semifinals, beating Brazil in the quarterfinal. Even though the Belgians could not get past France in the semis, they beat England to clinch the third spot, which remains their best World Cup finish to date.