The blend of great talent and squad depth makes Belgium one of the teams to watch this World Cup. The Red Devils have long been heralded as the next major international power, with stars like Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Dries Mertens tipped to succeed on the international scene. This made them earn the role of “Dark Horses” for a long time.
However, they have flattered to deceive in recent tournaments, and must soon grasp an opportunity if their ‘Golden Generation’ is not to slip away.
Their qualification has been smooth as they finished Group H winning nine games and drawing one – and Roberto Martinez’s men have a relatively straightforward group, featuring Panama, Tunisia and England.
Belgium’s provisional squad of 28 players was announced on May 21 and the final squad was confirmed on June 4.
● Past Record In World Cup :
○ Qualified: 13 times (1930, 1934, 1938, 1954, 1970, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2014, 2018)
○ Best World Cup Result: Fourth (1986).
Belgium reached six successive World Cups from 1982 through 2002 by playing qualification rounds, a record bettered only by Spain whose 2014 World Cup is their eighth consecutive qualification (a streak going back to 1986). On top of that, in that era the Belgian team reached the second phase five out of six times.
● Squad Analysis:
○ Belgium’s final 23-man squad
• Goalkeepers: Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg), Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool).
• Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham Hotspur), Dedryck Boyata (Celtic), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Thomas Meunier (Paris St-Germain), Thomas Vermaelen (Barcelona), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham Hotspur).
• Midfielders: Yannick Carrasco (Dalian Yifang), Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City), Mousa Dembele (Tottenham Hotspur), Leander Dendoncker (Anderlecht), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Monchengladbach), Adnan Januzaj (Real Sociedad), Dries Mertens (Napoli), Youri Tielemans (Monaco), Axel Witsel (Tianjin Quanjian).
• Forwards: Michy Batshuayi (Chelsea), Nacer Chadli (West Brom), Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United).
● Players Missing Out :
As the squad was trimmed down from 28 to 23 with Radja Naingollan for tactical reasons, according to Martinez, who travelled to Italy to personally deliver the news to the Roma midfielder.
Christian Benteke was cut from the final panel, as were Jordan Lukaku, Christian Kabasele, Laurent Ciman and Matz Sels.
Also, experienced winger Kevin Mirallas has not earned a place in the extended panel, while Burnley’s Steven Defour is also absent because of a season-ending knee injury in January.
Liverpool striker Divock Origi, who was on loan at Wolfsburg, misses out despite performing well in Bundesliga.
● Probable Formations :
Belgium may use the 3-4-3 formation focusing on their control over midfield with the likes of Carrasco, De Bruyne, Dembele and Meunier. Both the Right and Left mid may drop deep down the wing to support the defence.
○ 4-2-3-1 Pivot:
In this setup, they would be using a double pivot, and Witsel and Dembele would be among the more popular choices- both have defensive awareness and can cause trouble going forward. Dembele is an exceptional box-to-box midfielder who played a pivotal role for Spurs last season when they finished 2nd. With Kevin de Bruyne in an advanced attacking midfield role, and they’re good to go.
On the wings, they could go with Hazard and Mertens, who are exceptional on the ball and can cut in and bury the ball into the net with their lethal shots. Belgium’s all-time top scorer Romelu Lukaku would lead the line.
Their attack will be spearheaded by Hazard,Lukaku and Dries Mertens who can combine Goals and Assists in their attacking trident.
● Key Stats :
No longer the shrewd punter’s tip as dark horses, the Red Devils are now among the genuine challengers. They certainly have the squad: probably the Premier League’s best all-round player in Kevin De Bruyne; Dries Mertens, one of Serie A’s top players; and then there is Thibaut Courtois, Jan Vertonghen, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku. The concern must be Roberto Martínez trying to shoehorn his team into a 3-4-3 system without any real wing-backs.
● Team Rating :
○ Attack :
Belgium had a flawless qualification campaign in UEFA’s qualifying Group H with the likes of Greece, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia, Cyprus and Gibraltar offering very little threat. The team scored 43 goals in the campaign with Lukaku leading the way with 11 goals.
The team with the combination of Epl stars like De Bruyne, Hazard and others like Mousa Dembele,Witsel will have pretty much control in midfield with Fellaini filling the role of scoring super sub.
• Rating- 8.5/10
○ Defence :
Doubts remain over the fitness of Vincent Kompany and Vermaleen. But this is the right opportunity for Vertonghen to step up along with Kompany’s experience. On the other hand there is Meunier to provide some help in the attack as well as Chelsea star goalkeeper Courtois.
• Rating- 7/10
A team comprising of big names like Premier League stars Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Jan Vertonghen along with the added firepower of Mousa Dembélé, Michy Batshuayi, Dries Mertens, Thomas Meunier and Thibaut Courtois- this team has every possibility to go far enough in the knockout stages. Limp exit from previous tournaments might add to their extra optimism.
Belgium appointed Martinez as head coach in August, and he successfully guided them to World Cup qualification without losing a match. But after a 3-3 draw against Mexico in a friendly last November, De Bruyne critiqued Martinez for his poor tactics. Quite a worrying sign from one of your star players ahead of the World Cup.
○ The 3-4-3 system of Robert Martinez:
Just as they have done throughout Martinez’s tenure, Belgium lined up in a 3-4-2-1 formation against Egypt using wing backs and two attacking midfielders in support of the lone striker – Romelu Lukaku.
The major question mark heading into the Egypt game was who would replace Vincent Kompany in the heart of Belgium’s three-man defence, after the captain limped off injured during the goalless draw with Portugal.
● Manager’s Quotes:
Roberto Martinez told the media, “You saw the differences with the first match against Portugal – for example, the interaction between [Eden] Hazard and Mertens was much better.
“We have worked every day to make progress, but we also need to grow in those three group games. Only then will we be able to see exactly how far we stand.
“But I can already say that we are ready for the World Cup.”