Belgium boss Tedesco bristles at ‘Golden Generation’ tag

After more than 25 minutes of questions to Belgium captain Kevin De Bruyne and coach Domenico Tedesco on Sunday, the dreaded words “Golden Generation” had not yet been heard.

And then it happened — with the very last question, to Tedesco, on the eve of his team’s opening European Championship game against Slovakia.

“It’s a typical German question about the Golden Generation,” quipped Tedesco, who is Italian-born though a German citizen. “I was expecting that one.”

One day, Belgium coaches and players will not be pulled back to the gilded crop of prospects who seemed sure to one day win an international title, and possibly should have at Euro 2016.

It’s been a label, and a millstone, for Belgium since the 2008 Beijing Olympics where an emerging squad included Vincent Kompany, Marouane Fellaini and Jan Vertonghen.

De Bruyne and Eden Hazard were maturing in the team that reached the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals. The Red Devils were stunned at the same stage of Euro 2016 by Wales despite extra established stars Thibaut Courtois in goal and Romelu Lukaku in attack.

Marc Wilmots left as coach and was replaced by Roberto Martinez, who is now at Euro 2024 with Portugal.

There were eliminations as the world’s top-ranked team by eventual champions: in the 2018 World Cup semifinals against France, and a Euro 2020 quarterfinal match to Italy.

Then another stunner, failing to advance from the 2022 World Cup group stage in Qatar, albeit because eventual semifinalists Croatia and Morocco did.

“Qatar is over now. It was a disappointment, yes, but it was 18 months ago,” De Bruyne said Sunday ahead of the playmaker’s third attempt to win a European title. “It is a new tournament, a new coach. The team has changed quite a lot.”

Since the World Cup, veterans like Hazard, Dries Mertens and Toby Alderweireld have retired from the national team. Courtois fell out with Tedesco and is not in Germany.

De Bruyne is still here with Vertonghen (37), Lukaku (31) and Axel Witsel (35). Another Manchester City star, winger Jérémy Doku, is already at his third major tournament at 22 and much is expected from 21-year-old Johan Bakayoko on the right flank.

Belgium are still ranked No. 3 by FIFA.

“I wouldn’t say our squad is third in the world right now but in a tournament it doesn’t even matter,” said De Bruyne, whose 33rd birthday falls between the round of 16 and the quarterfinals.

“There are a lot of young players in the team and they’re really motivated,” De Bruyne said, whose team is strongly favored in Group E that also includes Ukraine and Romania.

The 38-year-old Tedesco, leading Belgium at a tournament for the first time, acknowledged there was a squad overhaul.

“There is huge quality among the young prospects, who are already ready for this stage,” Tedesco said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.