Belgian football had a lot to be thankful for in 2015. In November, the men’s national team went top of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking for the first time by supplanting reigning world champions Germany, before one of the most talked-about squads in world football then claimed the Team of the Year award in December.
Both successes provided concrete proof that Belgium have developed into a major power in men’s football, and now the country’s women’s team are attempting to follow in those footsteps. “We’ve come a long way,” said captain Janice Cayman in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
“We’ve been able to profit from the good results of the men’s side and we’ve used their rise to our advantage. It makes us feel we have talent and some good players in our squad, and that we can go a long way in competitions. We have a good communications team who’ve done a massive amount of promotion for us. That’s given us confidence.”
While Belgium’s most talented group of male players in a generation reached the quarter-finals of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, a feat that ranks alongside their most notable achievements of claiming gold at the Olympic Games in 1920 and fourth place at the World Cup at Mexico 1986, the Red Flames are yet to qualify for a major women’s tournament. That could soon change, however, with Belgium contributing to a riveting race with England for top spot in Group 7 of UEFA Women’s EURO 2017 qualifying.
*Learning from France and the USA *“It would be amazing for Belgian women’s football if we could qualify for EURO 2017,” said midfielder Cayman, who made her international debut at 18. “But there are still three games left. We had a good result against England but we dropped points against Serbia. We have to take things game by game, try to win all of them and then we’ll qualify.
"The 1-1 draw with Serbia was a bit disappointing, but we learned from that game. We went to the Algarve Cup [where Cayman was top scorer with four goals] and we came back stronger. We need to build on the work we’ve done. I think we’ll get better every year. We need to continue on the path we’re on so that we can get a bit closer to the level France are at.”
It is therefore not just from past matches that Belgium can learn but also from those countries where women’s football is already a success, such as the USA, where Cayman spent almost three years studying for a degree at Florida State University, and France, where she has played for FCF Juvisy since 2012.
“At the World Cup in Germany in 2011, France got to the semi-finals. It was a really big thing and it really boosted women’s football in France. In the States, ‘soccer’ is everywhere and it’s far more popular among girls than boys. So there are some good examples [where women’s football has succeeded]. We’ll try to get some good results and maybe then we can do what those countries have done,” said 27-year-old Cayman confidently.
*‘We really are a team’ *Belgium’s next qualifier for EURO 2017 is against Estonia in June. They then take on Serbia again in September, before the Group 7 showdown against The Three Lionesses, when Cayman will discover if her dream of reaching a major tournament will be realised. England will be a tough nut to crack, but the Brasschaat native and her team-mates will be boosted by the fact that the six best second-placed qualifiers also qualify for the tournament in the Netherlands.
“We really are a team. We have some good talent like Tessa Wullaert who plays for Wolfsburg in Germany. We all play very well together. We’re a young side, but we have experience as well. It’s a good mix and we all have the same objective of getting to the European Championships.”