Belgium Top FIFA Rankings to Close out 2015: Could They Be Euro 2016 Contenders?
The Belgium national football team only reached the quarterfinals in last year’s World Cup, and only had the fifth or sixth best record in the qualifying rounds for the 2016 European Championship. However, in the last update to FIFA’s world rankings for 2015, Belgium are listed as the top football team in the world. What’s the reason that Belgium top FIFA rankings, and could it help the Belgian side in their pursuit of the Euro 2016 title?
A Brief History of the Belgian National Football Team
Historically, Belgium have not been one of the best national soccer squads in the world. Though they’ve participated in 12 of the 20 World Cup competitions, the Red Devils have only had two real brushes with the upper echelons in the tournament. In 1988, they reached the semifinals, losing 0-2 to eventual tournament victors Argentina. In 2014, they lost to Argentina once again, losing in the quarterfinals after topping their group and beating the United States in the round of 16.
The Belgian national team have seen even less success in the UEFA European Championship. 2016 will only be the team’s fifth appearance in the tournament. They finished third in 1972 and second in 1980, but have been largely absent from the proceedings since, only reaching the group stage in 1984 and 2000, and failing to qualify for other iterations of the tournament. Next year will see Belgium’s first Euro appearance in more than a decade and a half.
Belgium’s Euro 2016
So does the Belgium national soccer team deserve to be slotted at the very top of FIFA’s world rankings—ahead of the likes of Argentina (2), Spain (3), and Germany (4)? Especially since the top ranking also earns Belgium “Team of the Year” honors for 2015?
If we are basing the rankings off of recent successes, then Germany—reigning World Cup victors and a group stage winner from the 2016 European Championship qualifiers—are the natural choice. England, meanwhile (currently ranked at ninth) perhaps should have gotten a bigger boost from their impressive 10-win performance in the Euro qualifiers.
Belgium, drawn into Group B in the Euro 2016 qualifiers, won seven games, drew two, and won one to top the group with 23 points. Wales trailed just two points to finish second while Bosnia and Herzegovina (originally the top-seeded team in the group) settled for third with 17 points. Belgium also didn’t have any players crack the list of the top 15 scorers for the tournament—though Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne tallied five apiece.
As you can see, Belgium did solid work in the Euro 2016 qualifiers, but not necessarily team-of-the-year level work. Evidently, it was a recent friendly fixture that ultimately earned the Belgian soccer squad the top spot. The Red Devils only played two friendly fixtures this year, due to their busy Euro qualifying schedule. However, they won both of those games and did so against notable opponents, including France (a 4-3 win back in June) and Italy (a 3-1 victory last month).
Comparatively, most of the other teams that would have had a shot at FIFA’s top spot—Germany, England, and Argentina—have had less glowing records recently. Germany lost a friendly to France; England fell 0-2 to Spain; and Argentina have looked sloppy in World Cup qualifying fixtures—largely due to the injury absence of Lionel Messi. In addition, a November 17th friendly between Belgium and Spain might have mixed up the ranking order a bit, but was cancelled.
What do you think? Do you believe that the wearers of the Belgium Euro 2016 home jersey are deserving of “Team of the Year” honors? Do you think they could win their first-ever European Championship next year in France? Or is FIFA overestimating the talent, depth, and recent accomplishments of the Red Devils football squad? At Soccer Box, we want to hear your opinions and predictions on the matter. Find us on social media, on Twitter, Instagram, Google +, and other popular channels.