‘What is the golden generation?’ asks De Bruyne after Belgium slumps again

DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) — Kevin De Bruyne stood, hands on hips, and tried to take it all in.

Belgium has flunked another major international tournament after a losing to France 1-0 in the round of 16 at the European Championship on Monday.

It was an all-too familiar feeling for one of the remaining members of his country’s so-called golden generation. Not that De Bruyne appreciates the tag.

“What is the golden generation?” he asked when it was pointed out to him that a collection of Belgium’s greatest players including Eden Hazard, Vincent Kompany, Thibaut Courtois and Romelu Lukaku has never managed to reach the final of a major tournament, let alone win a trophy.

“You say that France and England and Spain and Germany is not a golden generation? OK.”

If De Bruyne was touchy, it was understandable at the end of a tournament in which Belgium slumped to a shock loss to 45th-ranked Slovakia and was booed by its own fans after drawing 0-0 with Ukraine. Those results sent Belgium into the knockout match with back-to-back World Cup finalist France.

It feels like time is running out for De Bruyne, who celebrated his 33rd birthday on Friday.

He couldn’t help his team to a title when it featured greats such as Hazard, Kompany and Courtois. With those players no longer around, Belgium exited Euro 2024 with a whimper. All-time leading scorer Lukaku failed to get a goal in four matches.

“I tried to do everything I could,” De Bruyne said. “This is not what we wanted, but although we were not one of the favorites, we let ourselves down in the match against Slovakia.”

De Bruyne said he hadn’t considered his international future, but he will turn 35 during the next World Cup in 2026 in Canada, Mexico and the United States. He missed much of last season through injury.

Belgium’s best achievement with the golden generation was to reach the 2018 World Cup semifinals — beaten by eventual champion France — and a climb to the top of the FIFA rankings.

It was eliminated from the group stage at the last World Cup, after which Hazard retired.

Under coach Domenico Tedesco, who replaced Roberto Martinez after the last World Cup, Belgium qualified for the Euros top of its group, while Lukaku was the leading scorer.

But it hasn’t managed to reproduce that form in Germany.

“An hour after the final whistle and conceding a late own goal, it’s hard to go into an analysis,” Tedesco said. But he may face questions over his tactics against a France side that has hardly convinced at these Euros.

The No. 3-ranked Belgians showed limited ambition against a team ranked one place above them. De Bruyne — one of the best attacking players in the world — was deployed in a more defensive role and France dominated the chances.

That pressure finally told when substitute Randal Kolo Muani’s shot deflected off Jan Vertonghen in the 85th minute at Duesseldorf Arena for the winning goal.

“The game plan that we had, we stuck to it pretty well,” De Bruyne said.

“They had obviously the possession. They had more shots on goal. It’s a shame that that’s the way the goal comes, but we have to take it.”


James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson


AP Euro 2024: https://apnews.com/hub/euro-2024

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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