Always slipping up on grand stages, will the Belgian team finally prove critics wrong?
Belgium has assembled a dynamic team of players to launch a genuine bid for this summer’s World Cup in Russia.
Playing a pivotal role as both captain as well as creativity injector, Eden Hazard is their go-to man. The attack is spearheaded by target man Romelu Lukaku, with the support of the piercing passes of Kevin De Bruyne and high-intensity movement by midfielder Radja Nainggolan. The heart of defence sits the marauding Jan Vertonghen, while the custodian is none other than Thibaut Courtois.
Truly amassing a team of superb players with exceptional talent, but constantly falling well short of expectations in major tournaments. Their attempt for the nation’s first winner’s medal was crushed in the quarter-finals at both the 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championship.
Are the De Rode Duivels classic flops like England or just underachieving like Italy?
Since the departure of former manager Marc Wilmots, former Everton head honcho Roberto Martinez has taken over the reins. The right-hand man of the Spaniard is a familiar name in Thierry Henry. Since his appointment, Martinez has lost 1 out of 17 games, and absurdly enough it was a friendly, which was his first match against an enraged Spanish contingent who just got knocked out of the 2016 European Championship by Italy the week before. The team won 12 and drew 4 of the subsequent games, one being a 9-0 demolition of a non-existent Gibraltar.
Team-wise, Belgium looks to have decent depth for a championship team.
Cemented his place between the sticks, Courtois is the obvious first choice with the other being Liverpool’s former bane; Simon Mignolet. Their third choice is a little known Matz Sels from Newcastle but on loan at Anderlecht.
Their defence might seem a bit shaky, with Jan Vertonghen the only regular starter for their respective clubs week-in-week-out. Fellow Tottenham Hotspurs teammate Toby Alderweireld has been relegated to the bench in favour of Davinson Sanchez and is expected to leave the club. Vincent Kompany, despite being a stable and consistent performer, has age catching up and injuries nagging him every other week. As talented as he is, Thomas Meunier is an active benchwarmer in a star-studded Paris St. Germain. Rounding up, veteran Thomas Vermaelen has only appeared for the Catalonians a measly 12 times this year. ‘A bit shaky’, now seems like an understatement.
The midfield is where the Belgians shine, with a pair of midfielders any country would drool in envy. De Bruyne orchestrating from the middle of the pitch, possess enough intelligence to weaken any defence with splitting passes, while Hazard on the wing acts as a secondary offensive option. Both Nainggolan and the versatile Mousa Dembélé, can operate as a technical box-to-box midfielder, and easily disrupt passes while launching accurate long balls forward for fast counter-attacks. The bench sits the once Juventus-target Axel Witsel and former Atletico Madrid Yannick Carrasco whom both made questionable moves to the Chinese Super League despite still in their prime.
The final third of the pitch is led by Manchester United’s Lukaku. The 24-year-old is already Belgium’s all-time top scorer with 33 goals. If Lukaku does not find his form, Martinez can easily turn to Napoli’s dynamite Dries Mertens. The diminutive forward has bagged a staggering 90 goals in his five seasons with the Naples based club.
Moving on, who are the World Cup favourites? Previous winners Germany, the Brazilians who are always in contention, and the dual-team strength of France.
The team is drawn into Group G together with England, Tunisia and Panama. Seems relatively easy, as the only threat seems to be the sometimes toothless Three Lions. If Belgium does end up moving past the group stages, they will be facing either Colombia or Poland in the first round. Irrelevant to the result, the quarterfinals is where they will be scheduled to face either the Selacao or the Bavarians, setting themselves up for another *ahem* early exit.