Belgium failed to deliver the goods against France, but Croatia’s historic victory against England gives hope to the ‘Golden Generation’ moniker, writes MARSHALL GOUTS.
The Red Devils’ hopes of securing their maiden World Cup title came crashing down following a 1-0 defeat against Didier Deschamps’ Les Bleus outfit.
The semi-final clash saw two world-class squads go against one another, each of whom knew each other all too well due to the players being pitted against each other week-in and week-out in La Liga, Ligue 1 and Premier League to mention a few.
Boasting the likes of Vincent Kompany, Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku to mention a few, the Belgians had the tag ‘Golden Generation’ thrust upon them long before a ball was even kicked in Russia.
A similar story with Croatia, who were touted to topple their legendary 1998 predecessors, with the likes of Dejan Lovren, Ivan Perišić, Ivan Rakitić, Luka Modric and Mario Mandžukić leading the current crop of players. The difference between Belgium and Croatia being that the latter have thus far succeeded in their quest in living up to the status of the greatest generation of footballers that the country has ever had.
Depending on a team’s mental strength and their standing in world football, these comparisons often do more damage than good. Or on the flip side – it can propel the opposition, either way – it benefits the opposition.
Take England and France for example. Looking at the last four World Cups that they played in, both the Three Lions and Les Bleus were among the firm favourites (with star-studded sides) to win the title from the offset, but they underachieved horribly (barring France in 2006).
There is inevitably a psychological block which comes with being labeled favourites or the golden generation. The pressure of living up to the tag must surely linger in players’ heads and not everybody is able to thrive under these conditions. A make-or-break situation if you like.
This as opposed to playing with no expectation or going into a clash with the ‘David” tag against a ‘Goliath’ opponent, something which was evident in the 2018 World Cup semi-final matches.
It’s not that France, who boast one of the younger squads at the tournament are punching above their weight, it’s that they are playing without pressure, which comes from the expectations placed on them by external influences.
Obviously, there are other more pertinent factors to Belgium and England’s elimination – Roberto Martinez being tactically outwitted in addition to the individual brilliance of Modric, Perisic and Mandzukic. The other one
There’s a lingering sense that Belgium could have gone all the way. Who knows what could have happened minus the talks of a golden generation?
Croatia, have proven to be the exception to the seemingly dreaded golden generation rule and provided they go all the way and lift the title – there story of success will go onto be documented for decades to come.
Just don’t be mistaken and think it’s the norm.
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