Why Belgium is a World Cup dark horse but hasn't made Champions League knockouts since 2001

Stefan Coerts
Why Belgium is a World Cup dark horse but hasn't made Champions League knockouts since 2001

Belgium is seen by many as one of the dark horses at next summer’s World Cup after its impressive qualification campaign and last week's favorable draw in Costa do Sauipe has only raised expectations in the camp.

While the Rode Duivels are clearly a team on the rise, Belgian clubs have been unable to match the national team’s performances, and no side has survived the group stages of the Champions League since 2001.

Reigning champion Anderlecht currently sits rock bottom of Group C, with just one point from five games, having finished bottom of its section last season as well. Admittedly, Genk has given a good account of itself in the Europa League so far, yet Club Brugge and Standard Liege - Belgium's remaining two traditional powerhouses - either failed to make the group stages or are already eliminated.

It has not always been like this for clubs from Belgium's top flight, though. They may not have dominated Europe like their Dutch neighbors once did, but Pro League sides were a force to be reckoned with in the 1970s and 1980s. During those two decades, Anderlecht, Club Brugge and Mechelen made it to a combined total of nine European finals, with the capital side making waves with two Cup Winners' Cups and one UEFA Cup triumph between 1976 and 1983.

However, the glory days of Belgian football are long behind us as the country's clubs have mustered just one quarterfinal spot in a European competition in the 21st century - courtesy of Standard Liege in the Europa League in 2009-10.

The dramatic demise of Belgian club football is down to a number of factors, yet there's one standout reason for the league's drop in quality in the past two decades and that's Belgian clubs' inability to hold on to their key players.