Belgium's success 'down to belief in youngsters'

Belgium's success 'down to belief in youngsters'

Senhareb Malki was leading the line for Syria in their 2015 Asian Cup qualifier against Singapore on Tuesday night.

But he could have been playing alongside English Premier League (EPL) stars Vincent Kompany, Marouane Fellaini and Jan Vertonghen in a talented Belgium side that qualified for the 2014 World Cup last week.

After all, it was just five years ago when the Syrian vice-captain trained with the Belgium team in preparation for the 2008 Beijing Games.

Malki, then 24, was called up to the squad after a break-out season in the Belgian first division, scoring 16 goals for Germinal Beerschot.

He spent one week in the summer of 2008 training with the likes of Kompany, Fellaini and Vertonghen in Malta, even scoring the opening goal in a 2-1 friendly win against a Maltese selection.

His brief encounter with the up-and-coming EPL stars left Malki in no doubt that Belgium - who finished fourth in Beijing - would be a force to be reckoned with.

"Kompany impressed me the most during the training camp. He was a natural leader, shouting a lot and leading by example. He's strong, calm and it's very difficult to get past him," he said.

"(Zenit St Petersburg midfielder) Axel Witsel was a very good player as well."

Malki, who has one international goal for Syria, notes that this golden generation of Belgium players - from Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen, both 27, to Eden Hazard, 22, and Romelu Lukaku, 20 - did not emerge purely by chance.

He attributes Belgium's recent success to a good youth set-up and willingness to give talented youngsters opportunities to shine.

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