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World Cup Preview – Belgium (25/32)

Belgium

UEFA

Group G

Best World Cup Performance: Fourth place – 1986

Current ranking: 3

History:

Belgium lack an illustrious World Cup history and their semi-final appearance in 1986 came as a surprise. However, this generation is rightly considered the best ever to represent the country and their 3rd place FIFA world ranking is reflective of this. The squad has been together for multiple international tournaments and thus far failed to live up to the tag of ‘golden generation’. In Brazil 2014 they cruised through the group unscathed, but required extra time to get past the USA in the round of 16 as Tim Howard produced a superb individual display. They then produced a lacklustre display in the quarter final, up against eventual losing finalists Argentina and went out via a thunderous strike from Gonzalo Higuain.

Roberto Martinez will be taking an aging squad to Russia and for many players on the plane this might be their final opportunity at the peak of their ability.

Squad

Goalkeepers: Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg), Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool).

Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham), Dedryck Boyata (Celtic), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Thomas Meunier (Paris St-Germain), Thomas Vermaelen (Barcelona), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham).

Midfielders: Yannick Carrasco (Dalian Yifang), Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City), Mousa Dembele (Tottenham), Leander Dendoncker (Anderlecht), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Monchengladbach), Adnan Januzaj (Real Sociedad), Youri Tielemans (Monaco), Axel Witsel (Tianjin Quanjian).

Forwards: Michy Batshuayi (Chelsea), Nacer Chadli (West Brom), Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United), Dries Mertens (Napoli).

Group Fixtures

  1. Vs Panama 16:00, 18.06.18                  Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi
  2. Vs Tunisia 13:00, 23.06.18                  Otkrytiye Arena, Moscow
  3. Vs England 19:00, 28.06.18                  Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad

Manager: Roberto Martinez

Roberto Martinez will be a familiar face on the touchline for Belgium, having formerly taken charge of both Wigan and Everton in the Premier League. The trademark of his management style is an expansive brand of attacking football, but this often left the defence exposed after committing too many players forward.

Martinez is most fondly remembered for upsetting the odds and beating Manchester City in the 2013 FA Cup final, thanks to a late header courtesy of Ben Watson. Aside from this success, major silverware has eluded the Spaniard and some questions were raised over his appointment to a talent laden international side.

Qualification:

Belgium eased through qualification in group H, as was expected in a group containing Greece, Bosnia, Estonia, Cypress and Gibraltar.

The smaller nations were rightly crushed in emphatic fashion, Gibraltar suffered a humbling 9-0 defeat. The majority of qualification was performed in this manner, based on this evidence Tunisia and Panama should be weary.

Nevertheless, Romelu Lukaku had to snatch a late draw against Greece and Bosnia exploited Belgium’s defensive frailties to score 3. This proves that for all their individual talent, there is a weakness other international teams will target. Even so, qualification was completed without defeat and scoring 43 goals signalled the attacking instinct the squad possesses.

After a friendly against Mexico Kevin De Bryune questioned Martinez’s tactics stating “As long as there is no good tactical system for the team, we are going to face difficulties against countries like Mexico”. This has led to speculation on the squad’s belief in their manager and it will be interesting to see if this becomes apparent on the big stage.

Captain: Eden Hazard

Eden Hazard wears the armband for Belgium, which is somewhat surprising considering Vincent Kompany is a leader at the back. Hazard however leads by example with his performances on the pitch, as opposed to a more vocal style.

His talent is undoubted, the fulcrum of Chelsea’s two latest Premier League titles, also managing to scoop the PFA Players’ Player of the Year in 2014-15.

During qualifying Hazard was played in a number of roles, including partnering Lukaku in attack and this led to an excellent output of 6 goals.

Danger Man: Kevin De Bruyne

Belgium have numerous options going forward, but based on club form it’s impossible to ignore Kevin De Bruyne’s contribution. He was second only to Mo Salah in the Premier League this campaign and got a league high 16 assists. De Bruyne reads the game beautifully, always able to find pockets of space where he can play others in to hurt the opposition.

One such player is Dries Mertens, who also deserves to be mentioned due to his scintillating exploits with Napoli. He should not be underestimated and may be gifted time on the ball if the more obvious threats of Hazard and Lukaku are man marked.

Young Player: Romelu Lukaku

It seems odd to call Lukaku a young player but due to Youri Tielemans underperforming at Monaco it’s unlikely he will play a large role. Therefore, the Manchester United striker’s selection is a reflection of this aging squad, as its unlikely many players under 25 will feature heavily in Russia.

Despite this Lukaku’s large physical stature will mean he still has plenty of years left at the elite level providing his eye for goal remains.

During qualifying the striker managed an impressive 11 goals and broke Belgium’s all-time record goal scoring record in the process. Considering his age that is an astonishing feat, but a couple of World Cup goals would cement his legacy as the nation’s best striker ever.

PL players: Mignolet, Selz, Alderweireld, Kompany, Vertonghen, Kabasele, De Bruyne, Fellaini, Dembele, Lukaku, Hazard, Batshuayi, Benteke.

Belgium are incredibly well represented in the Premier League, especially amongst the elite clubs in the division. Although, this talent is widely dispersed, as Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Manchester United, and Manchester City’s squads all contain multiple Belgian internationals.

Prediction

Belgium will win the group and probably end up facing Colombia in the round of 16, but Poland is also a realistic opponent and neither should be taken lightly.

If Belgium make it past the round of 16, their most likely quarter final opponent would be Brazil. The South American side have a wonderful balance amongst their squad and a superb depth that few other nations can match. Beating Brazil would be seen as Belgium’s coming of age and a result of that magnitude would give them the confidence to go deep into the tournament. Although, due to their vast wealth of experience at the highest level, Brazil would undoubtedly remain favourites to win the tie.

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