MOSCOW (Reuters) - English World Cup self-pity often centers on the national team’s semi-final defeat by Germany on penalties at Italia ‘90 but Belgians have their own painful memories of 28 years ago at the hands of England and now they want payback.
When the two sides meet in Kaliningrad on Thursday in their first competitive encounter since that night in Bologna when England won 1-0, there is little at stake on the face of it since both are sure to progress from Group G to the last 16.
But although Belgium’s Spanish coach Roberto Martinez is talking about the match as a “celebration”, where winning is less important that rotating his squad, for Belgian fans there is a hunger for revenge for 28 years of hurt since Italia ‘90.
It was in the second round then when one David Platt, a late midfield substitute who went on to have a modest career as coach and pundit, etched his name into Belgian footballing history by hitting a sensational winner at the very end of extra time.
“It’s a painful memory but I think now is the right moment to avenge that generation,” Michel Preud’homme, the keeper that day, told public broadcaster RTBF as a new “golden generation” of Belgian talent eyes the country’s first ever major trophy.
The Belgium team built around Enzo Scifo and Jan Ceulemans had come achingly close in 1986, going out in the World Cup semi-finals to eventual winners Argentina, and felt destiny on their shoulders as they faced England at Italia ‘90.
Scifo and Ceulemans both rattled the woodwork but, with both sides gearing up for a penalty shootout, England’s Paul Gascoigne won a free kick 30 metres out in the 120th minute.
The mercurial midfielder punted the ball into the box where Platt’s stunning volley on the turn beat Preud’homme and drove a stake into the heart of Belgian dreams.
“We were all exhausted at the end of the match,” the keeper turned coach said. “I think we’d shown over the 120 minutes that we were the better team and we deserved to go through.
“That’s football. If you don’t take your chances, you can be at the mercy of a goal like that. A goal for the history books.”
Martinez wants to keep history out of Thursday’s game, hoping to rest key players and unsure that finishing first is an advantage given the possible future opponents.
England and Belgium both have a maximum six points with the game set to decide who will finish top of the group.
“Italia ‘90 brought a lot of pain to the Belgian people and Belgian fans,” he said. “This is a different game... The two teams can enjoy being qualified.”
Had England striker Harry Kane not scored an added-time winner against Tunisia in their first group game in Russia, things could have been very different, noted Martinez.
What if England needed all three points on Thursday? “Maybe then,” said the Belgium coach, “Platt’s goal would have been a little bit of a memory for everyone.”
Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; Ken Ferris