The main story from the Belgian camp following their Euro 2020 quarter-final defeat at the hands of Italy was that their ‘golden generation’ had spurned their last real chance to taste international glory.
Kevin De Bruyne admitted post-match he was playing with injured ankle ligaments, Eden Hazard was ruled out after picking up a muscle strain against Portugal, and so the onus largely fell to Romelu Lukaku to find a way through the Azzurri. He could only manage so from the spot.
But while those three key men may never get a better chance of winning on such a stage, Stade Rennais winger Jeremy Doku showed the world exactly why Belgium have hope that another generation of superstars can maintain their competitiveness way into the 2020s.
The 19-year-old was a menace, turning Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Leonardo Bonucci inside-out all night long in Munich – he completed eight dribbles on Friday, more than any teenager since Opta began recording data at major tournaments.
When the wing-backs weren’t playing it long to Lukaku, Doku was often tasked with trying to use his 5’7 frame to hold the ball up and turn out of danger. Rather surprisingly, it was an effective route out of trouble.
But obviously his main threat came at the top end of the pitch, and for all of the havoc and chaos he wrecked upon a sturdy yet wilting Italian backline, he was unfortunate not to come up with a goal or assist to save his country – he did win a soft penalty in first half stoppage time, if you want to count that as a fantasy football assist.
You’d find it to hard to believe that a player as dangerous as Doku has only scored two goals in 37 games for Stade Rennais. He nearly managed to send the game to extra-time with a recreation – one that would almost have certainly been deemed superior had it found the back of the net – of Lorenzo Insigne’s stunner earlier on in the game.
Doku had sizeable shoes to fill in Hazard’s absence, but there’s no doubt that the Real Madrid winger would have been proud to put in a performance such as the one his replacement provided on Friday. It’s certainly not his fault that Belgium are already heading home.
If anyone had any doubts about Doku’s ability to play on the big stage, to use his searing pace against a deep block as effectively as a side playing with open spaces, they’ve almost certainly been erased now.
We’ll be seeing Doku torture defences for a long, long time.