5 things about Belgium ahead of Euro 2016
13 May 2016, 18:50
Brussels - Five things about Belgium ahead of the European Championship finals where they will be in Group E with Italy, Irish Republic and Switzerland.
RISE TO THE TOP
Belgium took top spot in the FIFA world rankings for the first time in November 2015, replacing Argentina after a 3-1 win over Israel in Euro 2016 qualifying. The Red Devils' rise came less than a decade after they plunged to an all-time worst of 71st in June 2007 and was the culmination of a first successful European Championship qualification campaign since 1984.
They became the eighth team to ascend to top spot since the ranking system was introduced in 1993.
Jan Ceulemans holds the record for most Belgium caps with 96. The former Lierse and Club Brugge midfielder helped Belgium finish runners-up at the 1980 European Championship, with the Red Devils losing 2-1 in the final to West Germany in Rome. Ceulemans also played in three World Cups including the 1986 tournament in Mexico where Belgium reached the semi-finals before falling to Diego Maradona and eventual champions Argentina.
Veteran midfielder Timmy Simons, now retired from international football, is the closest challenger to Ceulemans' mark with 93 caps, but Jan Vertonghen (76) and Vincent Kompany (72) headline a group of players destined to break the record in years to come.
Belgium's national stadium was the site of the 1985 Heysel disaster that claimed the lives of 39 fans and left 600 injured. Crowd trouble ahead of that year's European Cup final between Liverpool and Juventus caused a stadium wall to collapse as fans tried to flee the threat of impending clashes.
Among those killed in Brussels were 32 Italians, four Belgians, two French fans and one from Northern Ireland. Authorities, however, pressed ahead with the game, won 1-0 by Juventus, with the reasoning that they were pre-empting further chaos. The ground was eventually renovated and renamed after the late King Baudouin after the tragedy and was used as the venue for the opening game at Euro 2000.
1920 OLYMPIC GOLD
Belgium hosted the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp and came away with gold in the men's football tournament. The home nation entered the 14-team competition in the quarter-finals, seeing off Spain and then the Netherlands to reach the decider against Czechoslovakia. An early Robert Coppee penalty and a contentious second goal from Henri Larnoe on the half-hour left the Czechs seething.
The dismissal of Karel Steiner just before half-time tipped them over the edge, though. Czechoslovakia promptly walked off the field in disgust. Incensed that three key decisions had gone against them, the Czechs were disqualified after their appeal to replay the final was rejected and Belgium were awarded the gold medal.
FLEMISH LIONS INSTEAD OF RED DEVILS
A country with a history of division, Belgian politician Filip Dewinter of the far-right Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest) party called for separate Flemish - the Dutch-speaking majority in the north - and Walloon - the French-speaking minority in the south - national teams after Belgium missed out on Euro 2008.
The fallout from failing to qualify for the tournament prompted Dewinter to blast a perceived lack of unity as partially to blame for the team's struggles. He also launched a petition called "Flemish Lions instead of Red Devils", but the emergence of another "golden generation" has silenced the campaign.