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Sunday, December 4, 2022
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Sunday, December 4, 2022
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    Belgium look to maestro De Bruyne for elusive glory at World Cup

    AP – Now 31 years old and going to his third World Cup, Kevin De Bruyne is one of the great players whose careers lack true international acclaim.

    The Belgium playmaker is beloved at Manchester City by his teammates and manager Pep Guardiola, and admired by opponents in England who voted him player of the year in two of the past three seasons.

    A team-first attitude. Visionary passing. Lethal shooting, when he chooses.

    And yet De Bruyne still has no Champions League title and never made the top three in voting for a Ballon d’Or or FIFA Best Player award until this year. He was a distant third in the Ballon d’Or vote won by Karim Benzema, a five-time Champions League winner.

    His finest accolade might be Guardiola calling him the best midfielder in the world in 2020.

    Now the World Cup in Qatar looks like his last good chance of helping Belgium win a major tournament for the first time.

    Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne during the UEFA Nations League match against the Netherlands at the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam. PHOTO: AP

    At the last two World Cups, the Belgians were stopped by 1-0 losses – in the 2014 quarterfinals by Argentina, and then in the 2018 semifinals by France. There were quarterfinal exits at European Championships as well – beaten by Wales in 2016, and held off by eventual champion Italy at Euro 2020.

    Between all those disappointments in the red of Belgium, De Bruyne always looked majestic in the sky blue of City. He was at the heart of four Premier League titles since his arrival in 2015.

    LAST CALL

    Belgium has been primed with its “Golden Generation” to win a major title for nearly a decade now.

    It’s one of the most asked questions in the modern World Cup era, like musing on Brazil finally winning a sixth title and Mexico eventually getting another “quinto partido” (fifth game) by reaching the quarterfinals.

    Belgium coach Roberto Martinez could send out a starting lineup with six players already having made more 100 appearances for the Red Devils. Central defenders Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld have a combined 264 games.

    LUKAKU KEY

    So much rests on the form of Romelu Lukaku, who did not play in September for Inter Milan because of a thigh muscle injury.

    Still only 29, Lukaku has scored 68 goals in 102 games for Belgium and has been transferred for fees totalling about USD325 million in a prolific career.

    Belgium has been a better team with Lukaku in it – see his two unselfish moves in Belgium’s fast-break goal to beat Japan in 2018 – and especially with his goals.

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