Brazil. When people hear this country mentioned they immediately think of three things. Carmen Miranda, that whole raining spiders thing (sure they didn’t technically “rain”, but do you really wanna debate the various ways spiders are terrifying or just close all your windows and move on), and the Brazilian national soccer team. They are a staple of international soccer, as the only team to have participated in every single FIFA World Cup, never even needing to go through the playoff stage to qualify. They are also the country with the most World Cup wins: taking home the trophy in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, and 2002. They were a dominant force, of course, they had big stars, but you could take just about any 11 Brazilian national team players from 1930 to 1980 and they would make one hell of a team. While they are certainly no pushover nowadays, they seem to have lost their time in the spotlight. Instead, a young Belgium squad is setting the stage for a lengthy and prosperous period of international soccer. But before we move on to the new, let’s take a walk down memory lane and look at some of the players who made Brazil the team that is was.
Those Beautiful Brazilians
A man who needs no introduction to fans of soccer of any age, Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, commonly known as Ronaldinho, is one of the most magical players to ever step onto the pitch. If you’ve never watched a video of Ronaldinho just, embarrassing defenders, I strongly recommend taking a quick break to go do so (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-JUyHL3v1QQ). Yeah, did you see him juggle the ball back and forth over those 2 poor defenders? Ridiculous. Fancy skills and tricks aside, at 33 goals in 97 international appearances and 167 goals in his 441 appearances at quite a few clubs, his productivity and impact are undeniable.
Although his namesake Cristiano Ronaldo has been doing more than his fair share to ensure that the name Ronaldo remains associated with the biggest stars of the game, we are talking about the prolific Brazilian striker Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima. Ronaldo was a star of both country and club tallying 62 goals in 98 appearances for the Brazilian national team and 247 goals in his 343 club appearances. As the numbers show, not only is he one of the best goal scorers in the game, second in all-time Brazilian national team scoring behind Pelé, but he is also one of the most efficient scorers. This is best exemplified by his time spent in PSV and Barcelona, in which he scored 42 goals in 46 appearances and then 34 in 37, respectively. Even though his career was beset by injury when he damaged his knee playing for Inter Milan, which is perhaps the only reason he didn’t go down in history as the #1 Brazilian goal scorer, Ronaldo was the definition of a star striker.
Pelé, need I say more? Often credited with coining the phrase “The Beautiful Game”, it certainly was whenever Edson Arantes do Nascimento, was on the field. With 1281 goals in 1363 games in all competitions across his career, which by the way means that if you watched every game that Pelé ever played in you would see him score in 93% of them, this mans’ legacy is one that will remain until the end of time. He is the only player in history to win the FIFA World Cup 3 times, ending with his FIFA World Cup Golden Ball, best player, an award in the 1970 tournament. Oh, and don’t forget that this is all while generally abstaining from taking Penalty Kicks, as he viewed them as “a cowardly way to score.” GOAT, no doubt about it.
The New Belgians On The Block
It should be noted that many of that numbers and stats you will read in this next section will seem unimpressive after the incredible career numbers of Brazils’ greats. That being said, those are numbers at the end of a career, these are just beginning. Belgium is home to some of the most promising young talents in soccer today, you can hardly find a team in the BPL or the Champions League that doesn’t have at least one Belgian doing their country proud. They are disciplined, team-oriented, and apparently, the music of Marvin Gaye got to Belgium about 27 years ago because they are chock-full of young talents.
Kevin De Bruyne
This 26-year old midfielder is already in his tenth season as a professional footballer and seems to have found his home at Manchester City. While not uncomfortable in front of goal, De Bruyne flourishes in his playmaker role. He has the ability to pick the ball up anywhere on the field and immediately make the perfect pass. With over 70 assists in all competitions across his last 3 seasons, De Bruyne is an ideal offensive threat. If you back off of him too far he will punish you with his accuracy. Step up to pressure him, to find that the ball is already falling perfectly into the stride of a striker in a better position than his own. With his vision and game intelligence, he will be one of the deadliest midfielders for years to come.
Romelu Menama Lukaku Bolingoli, age 24, is a name you know well if you watch the BPL. “The best Chelsea striker to never play for Chelsea”, after a slow start in 2011, Lukaku was sent on loan to West Bromwich Albion, where he proceeded to score 17 goals in 35 appearances. He returned to Chelsea, only to be loaned out again by manager José Mourinho to Everton. Remaining in Everton blue the entire 2013-2014 season, before signing on as an official Evertonian through 2017, the powerful #9 scored 68 goals in 141 Premier League appearances. Lukaku and Mourinho are now reunited at Manchester United and it has done nothing but improve Lukaku’s scoring so far. The Belgian also has 25 goals in 61 appearances for the national team, making his goals-to-games ratio almost 50% across the board. Not bad for someone who still has 3-5 years of being in his prime.
Eden Michael Hazard is another name most everyone should know, especially all those Chelsea fans that were heartbroken by Lukaku’s incredible stint of goals at other clubs. Coming to Chelsea from French club Lille after the 2011-2012 season, Hazard had a brilliant first season, finding the back of the net 14 times and assisting his teammates on 20 more. One of the most well-rounded offensive players in today’s’ game, Hazard has the ability to beat you on the dribble, score from any angle 20-yards and closer, and is excellent at using quick short passes to remove defenders from the equation. He has had an excellent career so far, except for his dud year in the 2015-2016 season, and the 26-year old only stands to improve. Hazard is poised to develop like many of the great midfielders, starting out as a quick talented winger/midfielder, whose experience will help him develop his game into a slower, more pass-oriented role as his career continues. With over 90 career club goals and 70 career club assists, Hazard looks to leave behind a legendary legacy. Oh, and did I mention he also has 3 younger brothers who all also play?
If all of this hasn’t been enough to convince you that Belgium is poised to take over the international stage, here are some more names for you. Thibaut Courtois, Thomas Meunier, Christian Benteke, Divock Origi, Michy Batshuayi, Adnan Januzaj. Still not impressed? Every player on this list is 26 years old or younger…World Cup 2022 finals here they come.