Former Belgium defender Daniel Van Buyten predicts a derby atmosphere when Marc Wilmots’ men visit France for a friendly on Sunday.
The neighbouring nations have developed a similar proximity in the FIFA world rankings over recent years, with Belgium climbing to a record-high second this week as France returned to the top 10 to sit ninth.
For Belgium, the fixture at the Stade de France represents a chance to prepare for their hugely important Euro 2016 qualifying clash with Wales next Friday, while Dider Deshchamps’ men continue their preparations to host the tournament.
“It’s a bit of a derby,” the 84-times capped Van Buyten told Perform. “It’s a country close to us, sometimes they tease us, and we tease them.
“Many Belgium players go to France, and also French players come to Belgium. We speak the same language, we’re really close to them, so it’s kind of a derby. It’s always a special game with extra motivation.
“France have returned to a great level again and Belgium have as well, so it’s more fun.
“In the past, France were often playing the biggest tournaments and getting good results, [while] Belgium had big problems for 10 years.
“But now we’re more or less on the same level. We’re two close countries, the two teams are close. It’s fun, interesting, it’s great.”
Belgian football fans have rarely had it so good. Their team is ranked second in the world with an in-demand coach – Marc Wilmots currently considering an offer from Bundesliga giants Schalke – and a squad packed full of top-class players, such as Eden Hazard, Marouane Fellaini and Thibaut Courtois.
“It’s a new generation that comes,” added Van Buyten. “It’s not that the [Belgium] academy became exceptional from one day to another. It’s just a great generation.
“Before that, for 10 years [after the 2002 World Cup], there was nothing.
“Now we have quality players and players who are playing abroad. Automatically, they have the experience from abroad and they can play against international teams.
“So we can compete against the best and that’s why we qualified for the World Cup in Brazil [in 2014].”
Belgium are without Vincent Kompany, suspended for the Wales clash, while France could hand an international debut to Rennes attacker Paul-Georges Ntep but will be missing Paul Pogba and Patrice Evra due to the Juventus duo’s UEFA Champions League final commitments.
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