A century on: Remembering Belgium's gold medal winners

  • Belgium won gold on home soil 100 years ago today

  • We look back at a wild and crazy Men's Olympic Football Tournament

  • To this day it's Belgium's greatest international achievement

After an eight-year hiatus due to World War I, football returned to the global arena in Belgium in 1920 as the Olympic flag and its famous five rings was hoisted for the first time.

Slowly but surely the football tournament was expanding as 14 countries participated, including a non-European nation for the first time: Egypt. The Egyptians were joined by the hosts, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and Yugoslavia.

Egypt were defeated by Italy in the opening round, 2-1. But what made bigger headlines at that same stage was the surprising elimination of Great Britain, who had won the title twice, 3-1 by Norway. There was another shock in the form of Spain, playing in their first-ever official international, defeating two-time silver medallists Denmark 1-0 with future goalkeeping star Ricardo Zamora shining.

1920 Olympic Games, Antwerp, Belgium, Soccer Final, Belgium v Czechoslovakia, Gold medal winners Belgium score with a penalty (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

Given a first-round bye, hosts Belgium edged Spain and Zamora 3-1. The Belgians then beat the Netherlands in the semi-finals 3-0.

Playing in their first international competition, Czechoslovakia proved they could take on the world and then some, outscoring the opposition 15-1 en route to the final. But the Czechs never finished what they started against Belgium in the gold-medal match, walking off the field at the Olympic Stadium to protest a sending-off in the 39th minute, which saw them ultimately disqualified and unable to compete in the tournament to determine the silver and bronze medallists.

Belgium, who were leading 2-0 thanks to Robert Coppee's penalty in the sixth minute and Henri Larnoe's goal in the 30th minute, were declared champions and the Belgian crowd of 35,000 invaded the pitch (pictured below).

An unconventional format

The format of the 1920 Men's Olympic Football Tournament was quite peculiar and something that was never seen again. There was an orthodox knockout tournament to determine the gold medal, meanwhile the losing quarter-finalists of the gold-medal tournament played out the best among them over two rounds. The winners after those two rounds were then joined by all teams to have been beaten by the gold medallists (in the final, the semi-final and the first round) for the semi-finals of the tournament for silver and bronze medals (no separate bronze-medal tournament was foreseen).

France refused to play because a good portion of their squad had returned home. So Italy, Norway, Spain and Sweden played off for the right to meet the Netherlands for second place. Spain earned the berth, defeating the Dutch 3-1.

Sweden's Herbert Carlsson was the tournament's leading goalscorer with seven, mostly on the strength of his five goals in a 9-0 first-round win over Greece.

Final ranking

  1. Belgium

  2. Spain

  3. Netherlands

  4. France

  5. Italy

  6. Sweden,

  7. Norway

  8. Egypt

  9. Denmark

  10. Great Britain

  11. Luxembourg

  12. Yugoslavia

  13. Greece

Disqualified: Czechoslovakia

The scene on the pitch at the Olympic Stadium following the abandonment of the football final between Belgium and Czechoslovakia during the Olympic Games held in Antwerp on 5th September 1920.  Belgium lead 2-0 and, after several controversial calls by John Lewis, the English referee, the Czech team walked off the field en masse in protest.  Belgium was awarded the gold medal and Spain won silver.  (Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)