Belgium peaked early as far as the Men's Olympic Football Tournament is concerned. Winners of the title on home soil in 1920, the Red Devils last appeared at the competition in 1928 - Jean-Francois De Sart's young guns ending this 80-year drought by qualifying for Beijing 2008. Despite being deprived of several key players, the Belgian side reached the semi-finals of the continental qualifying competition, where they were finally dispatched by Serbia. To get there, the Diablotins had emerged from a very tough group comprising Portugal, the Netherlands and Israel, an achievement that helped inject a much-needed dose of optimism into Belgian football. Once on Dutch soil, the team's spirit and defensive solidity shone through in the 0-0 draw with Portugal and a 1-0 success over Israel. These results were followed by a thrilling 2-2 draw against their neighbours and competition hosts, Kevin Mirallas and Sebastien Pocognoli scoring the goals to send Belgium through to the final four and a place in China.
Ahead of the friendly encounter with Morocco on 26 March, Belgium senior coach Rene Vandereycken included eleven players also eligible for the Olympic team, thereby confirming his faith in the work being carried out by De Sart at youth level. And it would appear to be a wise decision, with the quality of the 85-89 generation bordering on the unprecedented in Belgian football. Vincent Kompany (Hamburg), Marouane Fellaini (Standard Liege), Jan Verthongen and Thomas Vermaelen (Ajax), Haris Faroun (Genk), Kevin Mirallas (Lille) and Moussa Dembele (AZ Alkmaar) are all first-teamers at their clubs. In addition to these heroes from the summer of 2007, De Sart has begun the qualifying campaign for the next European U-21 Championship by blending in new finds such as Reginal Goreux, Landry Mulemo (Standard Liege), Timothy Derijck, Massimo Moia and Jeanvion Yulu-Matondo.
Jean-Francois De Sart has relied heavily on the experience of the EURO 2007 semi-finalists to build an ambitious team with talent in all areas. The sole cause for concern centres on the physical condition of his established players after a gruelling league season with their clubs. And the defeat suffered by the new-look Red Devils at the hands of Morocco in March 2008 raises doubts about the team's ability to withstand the pressures of a major event.
Facts and figures
Armand Swartenbroeks, Joseph Musch, Oscar Verbeeck (1920, 1924)
In what was their first European Championship finals' involvement since 2002, Belgium went unbeaten in their three group matches, conceding just two goals in the process. In the semi-finals, the Belgians were beaten 2-0 by Serbia.
The numbers game
11: the number of players born between 1985 and 1989 called up by Rene Vandereycken for the senior international friendly against Morocco in March 2008.
|22||Yves DE WINTER|
|2||Sepp DE ROOVER|
|16||Anthony VANDEN BORRE|
|7||Tom DE MUL|
|17||Stijn DE SMET|
|DE SART Jean Francois|