Belgium thank 'best fans in the world'
The Belgian national team has published an open letter thanking "the best fans in the world" and expressing disappointment after exiting the World Cup with a 1-0 defeat to Argentina at the quarterfinal stage.
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Belgium saw their 15-game unbeaten run ended by Alejandro Sabella's side in Brasilia as a result of an early Gonzalo Higuain goal, but the players showed their gratitude to their supporters in a letter published in several Belgian newspapers and magazines.
It read: "Dear best fans in the world,
"When we convened on May 19 for our first open training, we had no idea what was ahead of us. For seven weeks we tried like mad to give our best for our country and fans on this big stage in world football.
"We are incredibly proud to count ourselves among the best football nations in the world, despite having one of the youngest teams here.
"Of course we have also followed what you did in Belgium and, really, we think you've been world-class! Viewing records broken, the squares, the arenas ... It was fantastic to see how you all lived the World Cup in Belgium.
"Don't think we didn't feel your support. Therefore: A massive thanks for the thousands of tweets, Facebook messages and postcards, for your sleepless nights and near-heart attacks, for your celebrations and tears of joy.
"And a massive thanks to the supporters who travelled to Brazil to be here with us. Your presence wasn't unnoticed. When the 'tous ensemble' ['all together' -- the Red Devils' mantra] sounded around the stadium, it gave us all goosebumps.
"We may only be young, but we are also ambitious. We had really hoped to be in the final four and play the final or third-place playoff. That is why, beside pride, we also feel disappointment. We were so close.
"Now it's time to go home. On Sunday, exhausted but with our heads up, we will board our plane and hope to see our families on Monday.
"We want to invite you to our second fan day, where we will make time to celebrate these two past, unforgettable years with you. Details will follow!
"The World Cup in Brazil ends today, but we can look back on our campaign with great pride. And maybe we can dream a bit of a next tournament, because we want to be there every time from now on!
"That means more amazing moments for our fans to look forward to. So we hope to see you all again in September [when Belgium kick of qualification for Euro 2016 against Israel] to close a fantastic chapter and open a new one.
"We cannot thank you enough. The best in the world.
The Red Devils."
Belgium captain Vincent Kompany also thanked the fans as he looked ahead to potential success at Euro 2016.
The Belgium players have made a strong effort to connect with fans in recent years. During the qualification campaign for the World Cup, they came up with "The Devils' Challenges" for the fans. The first challenge was to colour Brussels' King Baudouin Stadium red, while another saw the stadium decorated in children's drawings. The players then did something in return, ranging from a fight in mock-sumo costumes to a visit to a children's hospital.
While in Brazil, the players also took turns to read out fanmail for their YouTube channel. In one incident, a young fan who aspires to be a goalkeeper had asked Thibaut Courtois whether his hands were too small. Courtois drew an outline of his own hand on a piece of paper and sent it back to Belgium, with the message: "Don't worry, your hands will grow, like mine. Thibaut."
The efforts to connect with fans led to unprecedented levels of support for the team, with whole streets decorated with flags and posters and widespread parties following victories.