[dropcap]H[/dropcap]aving won only one of their first three fixtures in Euro 2016 qualifying, Belgium set the record straight last night with a convincing 5-0 victory over Cyprus.
The central European nation are undergoing something of a football renaissance currently, with a supremely talented crop of players flooding the national team and promising a bright future for the country.
However, national selector Marc Wilmots has added a number of new uncapped players to his contingent for the clashes with Cyprus and Israel, with two getting a chance to make their international bows.
Manchester City defender Jason Denayer was an unused substitute in the win, but signs are there that the 19-year-old has the hallmarks of a star of the future.
On loan at Celtic this season, the teenage defender has been a star for the Scottish champions, although like young Dutch centre-half Karim Rekik, may have to leave City permanently to ensure regular first-team action.
With the hosts 4-0 up and cruising, Wilmots introduced two new attacking faces in the last 20 minutes who seem set to play a significant role in the continuing Belgium revolution.
Both Michy Batshuayi and Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco got their first taste of international football in the win, which will certainly not be the last time they feature on this stage.
Batshuayi managed to follow Harry Kane’s lead by getting his name on the scoresheet in his debut outing, netting Belgium’s fifth after three minutes on the pitch.
The 21-year-old centre forward’s inclusion comes on the back of stellar form for Olympique de Marseille in recent months, where the youngster has finally been given a chance to show what he is capable of by trainer Marcelo Bielsa.
After coming through the ranks at Standard Liège, Batshuayi was in demand last summer after scoring 21 goals in the Belgian domestic top flight.
Despite links to Arsenal, the powerful forward ended up in the south of France but has had to be patient this term while the likes of André-Pierre Gignac and Dimitri Payet headed up Bielsa’s preferences.
However in recent months Batshuayi has been handed five Ligue 1 starts and has repaid this faith by scoring eight goals in the Stade Vélodrome outfit’s unexpected title push.
Moving 220km east of Marseille, Ferreira-Carrasco has also been starring in the French top flight with Monaco.
The 21-year-old flying winger follows in the footsteps of illustrious predecessors in graduating from the Principality outfit’s youth ranks and has quickly become an understated but important player at the Stade Louis II.
Ferreira-Carrasco was part of the Monaco team that fired the club back to Ligue 1 after relegation and despite the big-name signings that have arrived has continued to feature heavily for Leonardo Jardim’s men.
The versatile attacker has offered up four goals and six assists in an impressive season for the Stade Louis II side, while he also got on the scoresheet in his side’s surprise 3-1 Champions League victory against Arsenal in London.
Between Ferreira-Carrasco and Batshuayi the pair have 24 caps for the Belgium under-21 side and as such it appears that the European nation’s hierarchy is working as desired.
This seemingly never-ending conveyor belt of young talent threatens to make a gifted Belgian side a power on the world stage, with Wilmots’ men certainly a dark horse in Euro 2016.
Eight of the Belgian starting XI in the victory over Cyprus have experience of playing in the Premier League, while four more on the bench are on English club’s books; that’s all without the discounted Kevin Mirallas, Romelu Lukaku, Adnan Januzaj, Thomas Vermaelen and Thorgan Hazard.
As such, with these starlets proving their worth in Ligue 1, a move across the channel seems increasingly likely down the track.
In the grand scheme of things, Belgian football is on the march, with this young and able generation of players set to make the nation a real force for the foreseeable future.
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