Since mid-July, both Belgium and France have featured in the top ten of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. Les Diables Rouges jumped six places to fifth, while Les Bleus climbed seven spots to occupy tenth position.
The two nations have reaped the rewards from their strong showings at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, where both teams reached the quarter-finals before suffering 1-0 defeats at the hands of the future finalists, the French against eventual champions Germany and the Belgians against runners-up Argentina.
The performances of these two neighbouring countries in Brazil have been well received. For Belgium, who missed out on the 2006 and 2010 tournaments, it was the second most successful World Cup in their history. As for France, they managed to turn the page on their 2010 fiasco when they only picked up a solitary point in the group stage and subsequently fell to 27th place on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking in September 2010. At the same time, Belgium were paying the price for their absence on the world’s biggest stage and were a lowly 62nd. Those positions remain the lowest that either team has been ranked in the last four years, evidence that they have each risen from the depths.
Deschamps, Wilmots key to optimism
The Belgian and French resurgences have taken pace under the stewardship of national legends Marc Wilmots and Didier Deschamps. The former has three World Cups stamped in gold on his curriculum vitae having participated as a player in the 1994, 1998 and 2002 tournaments, while the latter lifted the Trophy as captain of the triumphant hosts in 1998.
Despite being relative novices when taking up the reins in the summer of 2012, they have been able to pass on their experience to a group of players who were previously untried on the world stage, all the while bringing a sense of cohesion and soul to their teams.
Since taking charge, Wilmots has transformed a fading team, one absent from the biggest international tournaments since 2002, into a winning machine that qualified unbeaten for Brazil 2014. Meanwhile, Deschamps has injected some of his own legendary winning mentality, continuing the rebuilding work commenced by Laurent Blanc and showing clarity and strength, demonstrated by his decision to omit Samir Nasri from his final squad for Brazil.
The two head coaches also find themselves on common ground when it comes to an emphasis on preparing for the future by putting their faith in young players. Paul Pogba, Raphaël Varane and Antoine Griezmann were central figures in Deschamps’ strategy in Brazil, forming a cohesive unit alongside more experienced players such as Karim Benzema, Blaise Matuidi and Hugo Lloris. For his part, Wilmots has largely relied on Eden Hazard, Thibault Courtois and Kevin de Bruyne, while at the same time giving a chance to even younger players such as 19-year-olds Divock Origi and Adnan Januzaj.
With the rich experience now acquired by so many talented players, some already established and others soon to be, the future looks bright. In September, the qualifiers get underway for UEFA EURO 2016, to be held in France. The competition is eagerly awaited by Les Bleus, for whom the quarter-finals will no longer be enough and who will surely be among the tournament favourites. Perhaps they will cross paths with Les Diables Rouges who, provided they qualify and continue on their own upward trajectory, will take great delight in attempting to spoil their party.