With EURO 2016 already in full swing, the team at This Must Be Belgium are eagerly watching to see how far Belgium will progress in this year’s tournament. With the likes of Hazard, De Bruyne, Courtois and Kompany, Belgium has a host of world renowned players, but how much do you know about the team currently ranked 2nd in the world? Here to help as ever, we have made you a list of some historical facts about the Belgian football team.
Belgium was one of the first mainland countries in Europe to adopt football from the British. Records suggest that football was first played in Belgium in 1863 at a college in Melle, near Ghent. A visiting Irish student taught the college’s rugby team how to play the sport and it caught on from there. The enthusiasm for the game grew over the following decades to overtake rugby as the country’s most popular sport.
Belgium took part in the first ‘official’ international match outside of Britain when they played France in Brussels on 1 May 1904. The game ended in a 3-3 draw. Less than a month later, Belgium joined 6 other European countries as the founding members of the football association, FIFA.
3. Red and devilish
Belgium, who play in red, were given the nickname the ‘Red Devils’ by a journalist after beating the Netherlands 5-0 on 29 April 1906. The name is still widely used today, and everyone knows them as the Belgian Red Devils. The Belgians share their nickname with football giants Manchester United, who went a step further by incorporating a devil in their club logo.
4. Olympic champions
Belgium’s only major win at an international football tournament came at the 1920 Summer Olympics, held in Antwerp. However, they were awarded the gold medal by default after their opponent, Czechoslovakia, walked off the field in protest of one of their players having been sent off. The British referee – unimpressed by the behaviour of the Czechoslovakian team – decided to abandon the game and award the medal to Belgium. To this day, it is still the only time that the final of a major international football tournament has been abandoned.
5. Viva Mexico ’86
Mexico ’86 was the stage for Belgium’s best ever run in a FIFA World Cup. The tournament underdogs beat the Soviet Union and Spain in the knockout stages to reach the semi-finals, where they faced the tournament favourites, Argentina. Unfortunately they lost 2-0, with legendary striker Diego Maradona scoring both goals. Argentina went on to beat West Germany in the final to win the World Cup.
6. Top of the world
September 5th 2015 was a very proud day for Belgium, when for the first time in history their football team were ranked number 1 in the FIFA world ranking. The Red Devils spent an impressive 215 days at the top of the table, until knocked off by Argentina in April 2016.
- Most appearances: Jan Ceulemans, 96 appearances, 1977–91
- Biggest win: 10-1 against San Marino, 2001, 9-0 against Zambia, 1994
- Biggest defeat: 11-2 against England Amateurs, 1909
- Unbeaten record (longest run without losing): 14 games, from 2012 till 2013
- Longest run without a victory: 13 games, from 1933 till 1935
- Most goals: Bernard Voorhoof (1928–40) and Paul Van Himst (1960–74), both 30 goals