Friday 31 December 2021, 09:00

Belgium's three-year reign in focus

  • Belgium again finished the year atop the World Ranking

  • Roberto Martinez’ side have been leading the way since 2018

  • looks back on a reign currently three years and three months long

Once again the curtain falls on a calendar year with Belgium top of the pile in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. The Red Devils have occupied pole position since 20 September 2018, having got a taste for top spot for a few months in 2015.

Admittedly, the Belgians have ended 2021 with the slenderest of leads, just 2.1 points ahead of nearest pursuers Brazil. Nevertheless, it extends their spell in first place to three years and three months.

Three as in…

3 - The number of European countries that occupied top spot in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Ranking before Belgium. Germany led the standings in 1993 and 2014, France did likewise in 2001, as did Spain from 2008 to 2013.

3 - The number of years you have to go back to find an official match in which the Red Devils did not score at least one goal. The last time they were kept scoreless was the semi-final of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, when they went down 1-0 to France. Since that 10 July disappointment in St Petersburg, Roberto Martinez’ men have found the net in 42 consecutive matches.

3 - The number of goalkeepers who started games for Martinez in 2021: Simon Mignolet, Koen Casteels and Thibaut Courtois. The latter, who has been impressive for Real Madrid this season, remains the Spaniard’s first choice and is one of the national team’s top assets.

3 - Though dominant in the Ranking, Belgium are still looking for their first major tournament victory. Leaving aside the 2018/19 UEFA Nations League, where they failed to survive the group stage, the Red Devils have been eliminated three times in a row by the eventual winners of a competition: France at the aforementioned 2018 World Cup, Italy in the quarter-finals of UEFA EURO 2021, and France again in the semi-finals of the Nations League 2020/21.

3 - The number of defenders almost always used by Martinez in his formations over the last three years. The coach is more flexible when it comes to attacking formations, opting for 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 depending on the opponent.

3 - The number of defeats suffered by the Red Devils in 2021. They lost to Italy in the quarter-finals of EURO 2021 (2-1), to France in the semis of the Nations League (3-2) and again to Gli Azzurri in the match for third place in the same competition (2-1). Their 2021 record is three defeats, three draws and nine wins.

3 - The number of consecutive World Cups Belgium have now qualified for. Winners of Group E in Qatar 2022™ qualifying with six wins, two draws and no defeats, the Red Devils became the third European nation to secure a place (along with France) after Germany and Denmark had earlier qualified.

3 - Among the teams that have spent the most time at the top of the FIFA Ranking, Belgium rank third. As of 31 December, they have spent a combined 1352 days atop the global standings. Only Spain (1960), and Brazil (4731) have spent longer in top spot.

3 - Romelu Lukaku has not been on the scoresheet for Belgium in any of their last three games. This mini-drought is all the more remarkable when you consider the striker netted 11 times for the national team during their previous fixtures in 2021 and has the impressive goals-to-game ratio of 0.67 (68 goals in 101 appearances).