Continuity will be the key for Belgium at the Olympic Football Tournament next month as the Diablotins (Little Devils) will remain faithful to the men who sealed their historic qualification at the UEFA U-21 Championship 2007. Coach Jean-François de Sart will take 20 players to Beijing, including only two over the age of 23, and one of those looking forward to taking part is Logan Bailly. A promising goalkeeper based at Genk, the 22-year-old is expecting the tournament to be "immense."
"I built my squad on the basis of our successful Euro campaign," said De Sart, recalling his U-21 side's semi-final finish on Dutch soil last summer. "I wanted to reward the players who earned us our qualification. I've chosen a balanced squad with players who complement each other well, and I think there's a lot of versatility there too.
"Our intention is to take 20 players to China. I've only called up two players over 23 years of age (Sepp De Roover and Maarten Martens). Mbo Mpenza wasn't given permission by his new Greek club Larissa and Gabi Mudingayi wasn't picked for sporting reasons." Club misgivings may have prevented Mpenza from taking part, but they did not dissuade De Sart from including Vincent Kompany in his travelling party, with the young defender down to make the trip despite Hamburg's desire to keep him in Germany. De Sart has also selected Marouane Fellaini, who may well miss some of the Diablotins' matches, as he is set to turn out for Standard Liege in their UEFA Champions League third qualifying-round tie. The issues surrounding those two players are hardly isolated either, and De Sart must have must have wished for far more breathing space as he drew up his final list.
"All these stories are a shame but I don't think that will affect the team when we start our preparations," Bailly told FIFA.com. "The problem is that no one realises how big this event is. The Games are extraordinary. The whole planet is watching you. Everyone in the team will experience that once we get there, but not before. And that could explain quite a few things."
In at the deep end
A runner-up in the Belgian league in 2006-07, Bailly will feel right at home when the Diablotins kick off their friendly programme against the Netherlands in Genk on 23 July, two days after the country's national holiday. They will then have one last chance to perfect their routines against an as yet unnamed opponent on 2 August, and they know they must take maximum advantage as they begin their campaign against a Brazil side starring Ronaldinho and Pato just five days later.
"Playing Brazil right at the start is the best possible scenario," said Bailly. "Personally, I prefer it that way. We'll be up to the task and we can make something happen. We have to be realistic, of course, but after Brazil we've got New Zealand and China, and we're more than capable of beating both those teams." The Liege native is also hoping he can raise his profile on Chinese soil, identifying the Olympic Tournament as "as a massive springboard in personal terms. ."
The focus on collective goals is far from being mere talk, and the Belgians count squad unity as one of their primary qualities. "Pretty much everyone has good technique," added Bailly. "What makes the difference in a competition like this is experience and mental strength. That's what everything will come down to. Our team is stronger mentally because we're all a year older than we were at the Euro and some of us play at big clubs, including Standard. Our mental strength and our unity are without doubt our biggest plus points. Without them, we wouldn't get very far."
Coach De Sart is of the same opinion and has made group harmony one of the central pillars of his philosophy. Belgium are obviously feeling the benefits too and they travel to Beijing with an undoubtedly talented group of players, with the likes of Kompany, Martens, Fellaini, Thomas Vermaelen, Moussa Dembele, Tom De Mul and Kevin Mirallas at the forefront. These are exciting, potential-filled times for Belgian football and, although he may not want to proclaim it too loudly, Bailly believes he and his young colleagues can take the Diablotins as far as the semi-finals. An achievement of that scale and the talk could well be that of a golden generation.