Kevin de Bruyne said a big factor in Belgium’s recent rise to global prominence in soccer is the fact this generation was the first to send its players in great numbers to top-flight foreign leagues to play and learn.
On the 1986 Belgium team, the first to play in a World Cup semifinal, 20 of the 22 players competed for club teams in the country’s domestic league. This year’s team, by contrast, has just one player — defender Leander Dendoncker — playing at home.
“Belgium has a lot of talent but until 15 years ago, nobody was playing outside of Belgium,” said de Bruyne, who has played in the German Bundesliga and the English Premier League. “Then (Vincent) Kompany and (Marouane) Fellaini went and others thought ‘let's sign more Belgium players.’ And that has helped.”