We keep hearing that Belgium’s golden era is on its way out, but on the evidence of Monday’s victory over Finland, the future doesn’t look too bad at all.
While the likes of Thomas Vermaelen, Axel Witsel and Eden Hazard may be coming towards the end of their international careers, Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Thibaut Courtois are going nowhere any time soon.
The peaks of Youri Tielemans, Jason Denayer and Leandro Trossard are yet to come. Against Finland, the latter duo looked like capable international players, who could provide the foil for their world class talent in the tournaments that lie ahead.
And then coming through underneath all of that is the rapidly emerging Jeremy Doku.
The Rennes forward has only just turned 19 but caused more trouble for the Finnish back line than the likes of Hazard and Lukaku in the early stages, marking his sixth international start with a number of bright, explosive dribbles that kept Jere Uronen guessing.
A switch from right to left midway through the first period saw him find more space, as he took a Kevin De Bruyne pass in his stride, found a yard on Jukke Raitala and fired one at the far post that required a full-stretch stop from Lukas Hradecky.
He moved back onto the right as the second half began, and with Belgium knocking at the door, his wild bursts of pace were proving too much for Uronen to handle – especially with the ineffable De Bruyne spoon-feeding through balls right into his path.
Time and again he was finding space in the inside channel, picking the ball up and teasing the opposing wing-back before sending a searching ball inside.
By the time he was substituted, he’d completed three key passes – more than any Belgian player other than De Bruyne, who naturally racked up seven – and had left yet another lasting mark on the international scene.
The match-winning moments for Belgium came from more familiar sources. Thomas Vermaelen’s header crept over the line before Lukaku’s late strike sealed Group B, but it was a hugely encouraginf performance from Doku that only added to his growing reputation as one of European football’s hottest prospects.
With the 19-year-old on the rise, and a supporting cast of younger players available to support De Bruyne and Lukaku in the years ahead, we may not yet be witnessing the end of Belgium as an international force.
Before we start looking to the future, though, there is the rest of Euro 2020 to keep a careful eye on., Aided by Doku’s most recent impressive display, Belgium have stormed through Group B with a 100% record – and you wouldn’t bet against them having some silverware to show for it come 11 July.