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Belgium's 'golden generation' finally make their mark at World Cup

AFP  |  Saint Petersburg 

Long touted as contenders thanks to an abundance of talent, claimed their biggest scalp ever in beating five-time winners to reach just their second semi-final.

A 'golden generation' featuring Thibaut Courtois, Kevin De Bruyne, and exited tamely to four years ago and blew a huge chance at Euro 2016 when on the kind side of the draw.

Now in their prime, this group of players is unlikely to get a better opportunity to win a major international tournament than over the course of the next week, with to come in the last four on Tuesday.

Here, AFP looks at Belgium's rich resources in every area of the field.

Courtois stands tall


The giant Chelsea stopper needed every inch of his 6 feet 6 inch (1.99 metre) frame to prevent Neymar hauling into extra-time with a stunning stoppage time save on Friday.

"I know Neymar likes to curl it that way. I was ready and made a good save," said Courtois.

"I have been unfairly criticised a lot this year. Today I proved again who I am and why I am here."

Widely regarded as one of the world's best goalkeepers, Courtois has won two titles with Chelsea and while on loan at Atletico Madrid, but his nine-save display against was one of his best yet on the big international stage.

Last chance for ageing defence


Trailblazers for a wave of Belgian talent to make their way to the Premier League, and have battled back from years of problems just to make the squad at the age of 32.

Before Toby Alderweireld's problems this season, he and Tottenham teammate had been hailed as the Premier League's best defensive partnership.

However, Vertonghen, 31, and Alderweireld, 29, also do not have time on their side. The pace of Kylian Mbappe could cause problems in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday, but will not be short of experience at the back.

Midfield maestros


had been criticised for not finding the right balance to get the best out of De Bruyne early in the tournament, but the Spaniard's bold tactical plan worked to perfection against Brazil.

took De Bruyne's place in a deep-lying midfield role to free up Manchester City's of the year to play much further forward and to devastating effect as he blasted home Belgium's second of the night and his first of the tournament.

has been consistently brilliant, scoring twice against in the group stage, and providing the teasing cross from which Fellaini equalised in a thrilling comeback from 2-0 down to beat 3-2 in the last 16.

As tired against waves of Brazilian attacks in the second half, Hazard carried his side up the field, winning free-kicks and relieving the pressure -- a sign of his and this side's growing maturity.

Lukaku more than a goalscorer


Still in the race for the Golden Boot behind Harry Kane, with Belgium now guaranteed two more matches, has shown another side to his game so far in the knockout phase after scoring four times in the group stages.

His superb run off the ball and dummy in the final seconds against cleared the space for to tee up Nacer Chadli's winner.

Against Brazil, again it was Lukaku's link-up play that proved decisive as he powered past Fernandinho and Paulinho on a rapid counter-attack before feeding De Bruyne to smash home from the edge of the area.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sat, July 07 2018. 17:50 IST