• “You cannot compare the Nations League with the European Championship or the World Cup, but it is a prize that four major countries are competing for," said Witsel.
• Belgium’s last meeting with their neighbours came in the World Cup semi-finals in St Petersburg where France won 1-0 before going on to be crowned world champions.
Belgium have not backed up their long-standing position at the top of the Fifa rankings with a major title but midfielder Axel Witsel says success in this week’s Nations League final four would be validation of the country’s ‘golden generation’.
Belgium have been ranked as the top national team by world soccer’s governing body since 2018, despite only finishing third at the World Cup in Russia that year and going out at the quarter-final stage of the European Championship in July.
Players like goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, midfielder Kevin De Bruyne and forwards Eden Hazard and Romeu Lukaku have been feted for their ability but they have fallen short of adding to their reputations with a title at international level.
However Witsel, also a prominent member of the golden generation with 116 caps, believes there is a chance to put that right when Belgium compete in the four-team tournament in Italy.
They face world champions France in their semi-final in Turin on Thursday and either European champions Italy or Spain in Sunday’s final or third place playoff.
“You cannot compare the Nations League with the European Championship or the World Cup, but it is a prize that four major countries are competing for. If we can win it, that would be a crowning achievement for this group,” Witsel told a news conference on Monday as Belgium began their preparations.
The 32-year-old said the formidable field for the Nations League finals made it an attractive trophy to chase.
“There are four big football nations in the Nations League. We want to take a trophy together, we have a big team and we can take on France,” he added.
“You don’t need any extra motivation taking on France. These are the kind of challenges that make you want to be a professional footballer.”
Belgium’s last meeting with their neighbours came in the World Cup semi-finals in St Petersburg where France won 1-0 before going on to be crowned world champions.
“What we learned from 2018 is that we have to be super focused from the first to the last minute. France has top players who can make the difference when you least expect it,” Witsel said.