Sadness as Belgium's 'golden generation' exit World Cup

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(Samuel Umtiti 51)  

Belgium’s defeat to France in their World Cup semi-final produced a mixed reaction of sadness and gratitude from fans at home, who bemoaned a missed opportunity for their “ golden generation”.

A second-half goal from Samuel Umtiti in Saint Petersburg gave France a 1-0 win, earning them a place in Sunday’s final in Moscow against either England or Croatia.

“Bravo @BelRedDevils for your performance and having thrilled us until the semi-final,” Belgium Prime Minister Charles Michel tweeted.

At cafes and other fan gatherings, disappointment showed on Belgian faces after the team – known as the Red Devils – were eliminated.

“It’s really too bad to lose to France, Belgium’s national bad luck,” Alice Cordier told AFP in a fan zone in Waterloo, south of the capital Brussels.

“But we are still proud to be Belgian,” the 27-year old fan added in the town where French emperor Napoleon was defeated by a mix of European forces in a huge battle in 1815.

Some echoed the love-hate relationship and inferiority complex many French-speaking Walons have with their bigger neighbour France.

“We will hear it spoken about for 100 years,” one Belgian fan said. “The French will take the mickey out of us.”

French speakers, who share a country with Dutch and German speakers, are particularly sensitive to what they see as France’s condescending attitude toward them.

It’s only the second time in history that Belgium have reached the World Cup semi-final, 32 years after Diego Maradona’s Argentina beat them at the same stage in Mexico in 1986 before going on to win the tournament.

France won the World Cup in 1998 and are now in their third final.

For many observers, this generation of talented players including Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Vincent Kompany and others had a real chance to come home victorious.

“Regrets are eternal. It will not be our day of glory on this 10 July,” a presenter of Belgium’s French-language RTBF television station said after the final whistle.

But he thanked the team.

“Thanks for having allowed, thanks to football, to forget everything a bit and enjoy moments of pleasure.”  – AFP

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