Like fellow semi-finalists Argentina and Nigeria, Belgium are former Olympic football gold medal winners. However, although Nigeria and Argentina can point to recent wins in 1996 and 2004 respectively, Belgium have to scour the record books back to 1920, when they hosted the games in Antwerp, to re-live their lone moment of Olympic glory.
The Belgians' achievement in reaching the last four of Beijing 2008 cannot be underestimated. With injury concerns, suspended players and a general lack of big-name stars in the side after the return of Vincent Kompany to German club Hamburg, the Northern Europeans are very much the outsiders of the semi-final round. But after twice coming from behind to beat star-studded Italy in the quarter-finals, the Red Devils are growing in confidence.
"We are a team with few stars, but a strong will," Moussa Dembele, scorer of a pair of goals in the 3-2 win over Italy on Saturday, told FIFA.com. After the Belgians were reduced to ten men and conceded a penalty in the 18th minute, they sprang into action. "Because we play as a team, we were able to keep our cool and even get better after going down a goal and down a man."
The Italians were runaway favourites to reach the semi-finals, but were a stunned by the never-say-die attitude of their opponents in Beijing. Dembele, 21, who plays for Dutch club AZ Alkmaar, attributes their comeback to a solid team ethic and an all-out attacking posture. "First, we're like brothers out on the pitch, all of us working for our mates," he said. "Secondly, we never stop attacking. We've shown that we can attack so far at this tournament. Even after we conceded the first goal against Italy, we pressed forward all the time and took them out of their comfort zone."
Up next for Belgium and Dembele, second-top scorer at the Men's Olympic Football Tournament with three goals, is a date with mighty Nigeria, gold medal winners from Atlanta 1996. Samson Siasia's side is loaded with outstanding individual talents like Victors Anichebe and Obinna, Solomon Okoronkwo and Peter Odemwingie. Even so, Dembele is keen for his Belgians to maintain their reputation as tournament spoilers.
"We know Nigeria is a strong team," said the player, a recent transfer target for Premier League side Blackburn Rovers and Serie A giants Roma. "It's not going to be easy for us, but we managed to beat Italy in the last game and we are growing in confidence. Nigeria may be good, but we are a team not to be overlooked."
And when asked if he's already dreaming of a possible gold medal to add to the one from the 1920 games, currently gathering dust in the Belgian FA's trophy room, the striker does not hesitate: "Sure, why not? We came here with hopes of winning a medal and we're not going to stop trying now!"