Belgium's 'golden generation' unite a nation despite defeat

Sports | 12 Jul 2018

Belgium's defeat by France in their World Cup semi-final produced mixed feelings of sadness, gratitude and pride from fans at home, who bemoaned a missed opportunity for their "golden generation".

A second-half header from Samuel Umtiti in Saint Petersburg gave France a 1-0 win, earning them a place in Sunday's final in Moscow.

Thousands of crestfallen fans walked away quickly after the final whistle sounded on a giant screen in the town of Waterloo, south of Brussels.

"It's really too bad to lose to France, Belgium's national bad luck," 27-year-old Alice Cordier said. "But we are still proud to be Belgian."

Some echoed the love-hate relationship and inferiority complex many French-speaking Walons have with their bigger neighbor France. "We will hear it spoken about for 100 years," 26-year-old fan Stephanie Smeets 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 is only the second time that Belgium have reached the World Cup semi-finals. Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel was full of praise for the Red Devils.

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

"Regrets are eternal. It will not be our day of glory on this July 10," 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."

Analysts have also praised the multicultural team, including those whose parents are Congolese and Moroccan immigrants, for helping to unite a country split by political tensions over the Dutch and French language.

In Brussels, the national colors - black, yellow and red - were draped over cars, balconies and cafes that showed the match on television.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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