Belgium’s “Golden Generation” has devolved into the “Fighting Generation.”
Following the team’s shocking 2-0 World Cup loss to Morocco on Sunday, veteran stars Kevin De Bruyne, Jan Vertonghen and Eden Hazard clashed in a heated locker room altercation, according to RTL Sport.
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The incident became physical and teammate Romelu Lukaku had to separate them, according to the report.
Tension inside the Red Devils’ squad has been rising since the beginning of the tournament.
Asked in the build-up to the match about the team’s chances to win the World Cup, De Bruyne curiously told The Guardian that Belgium has “no chance” because the team was “too old.”
“I think our chance was 2018,” De Bruyne said.
“We have a good team, but it is ageing.”
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It was unclear if De Bruyne, a 31-year-old attacking midfielder, was specifically shading the team’s older defenders.
The 35-year-old Vertonghen has started alongside the 33-year-old Toby Alderweireld at centre back for both of Belgium’s World Cup matches.
After emerging as some of the best young talents all across Europe, De Bruyne, Vertonghen, Alderweireld, Hazard and Lukaku along with Thibaut Courtois and Dries Mertens offered the nation ample hope to win long-coveted major international trophies.
The core, however, has transitioned from tantalising dark horses, to contenders and favourites, to underachieving disappointments.
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The current group has not won any major trophy, only getting as far as third place in the 2018 World Cup.
Following the loss to Morocco and prior to the blow-up, an enraged Vertonghen appeared to hit back at De Bruyne while speaking with reporters.
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“There’s so much going through my mind right now, things I shouldn’t say in the open air,” Vertonghen said.
“Where did it go wrong? We probably also attack badly because we are too old, that must be it now, surely?”
Mertens’ wife, Kat Kerkhofs, revealed the there was still vitriol at a team barbecue hours later.
“That was really awkward,” Kerkhofs told the MIDMID MONDIAL podcast.
“The players were logically still very disappointed.”
Belgium sits in third place in Group F heading into their final group-stage game against Croatia on Friday (AEDT).
They are one point below Morocco, who faces already-eliminated Canada, for the group’s second spot in the knockout round.
WORLD CUP CHIEF SLAMS ‘VERY RACIST’ BBC COVERAGE, TAKES AIM AT GARY LINEKER
A prominent Qatari figure has labelled the BBC’s coverage of the World Cup as “very racist” and took aim at presenter Gary Lineker, claiming he “never bothered to engage” ahead of the tournament.
Hassan Al-Thawadi, the Secretary General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy and head of the Qatar World Cup, was displeased with Lineker kicking off the BBC’s coverage with a lengthy monologue where he detailed the many scandals surrounding the event.
He also fumed over former Germany international Jurgen Klinsmann’s comments in relation to the “culture” of the Iranian team.
“Unfortunately, I’ve seen some of the coverage that seems to be kind of pushing towards that stereotype of the Middle East,” Al-Thawadi told talkSPORT.
“I’ll give an example: the Wales-Iran game. Iran played very good, would you say so? They were the better team, up until the 95th or 96 minute, right?
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“And yet, the coverage that we saw, for example on BBC, by Jurgen Klinsmann, talking about how it’s part of their culture, and reflecting the players in a way that was — I hate using the word but I will use only once just because I don’t ever want to give power to the word — very, very elitist, very orientalist, very racist to a certain extent.
“When you’re sitting down looking at what was happening and you’re saying, ‘That’s part of their culture’, what do you mean by that? Was it misunderstood or was it a reflection, was he representing a culture in a very negative way?”
Al-Thawadi then took aim at Lineker and fellow presenter Roy Keane, who has also been critical of the tournament.
“When it comes to statements that come out, for example, from Roy or from Gary, or whoever else it is, there was no engagement,” Al-Thawadi said.
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“The sad part, for example, for me: Gary Lineker, as I was growing up, I looked up to him.
“I used to look at ‘They Think It’s All Over’. For me, it was a show that I used to love watching. I loved the banter, I loved the sense of humour, I loved everything about it. And so, for me, it’s very disappointing that Gary never bothered to engage, and I say it openly.
“He never bothered to engage. We reached out. We reached out many times. In February, we reached out over three or four times, specifically requesting to engage with Gary, to sit down and say, ‘We understand your position. Give us the opportunity to put our case in front. At least hear us out. If you don’t agree then, that’s fine, that’s your decision, and that’s your judgment.
“But we never got the chance. There was never the desire to listen to our part of the story.”
However, Lineker took to social media to refute Al-Thawadi’s claim.
“Well, this is news to me,” Lineker wrote on Twitter.
“Neither my agent or myself received any request to engage with anyone involved with Qatar 2022.
“I have my weaknesses, but I’m not that rude. Very odd.”