The World Cup recently has been largely Brazil and the big three in Europe, France, Germany and Spain. These teams remain the big teams to beat in Russia but there are many more waiting for a chance to cause an upset and make it into the latter stages. Nations such as Croatia and Poland are threatening to do this, but perhaps Belgium are the most likely to be the Dark Horse in this year’s World Cup. Below are my reasons why Belgium are the team to watch this summer.
The Luck of the Draw
The luck of the draw has favoured Belgium superbly. Tunisia and Panama are two of the weakest teams in the competition and for a side of the Belgians quality, should give them no problems at all. If all goes to form, Belgium will win these first two games of the group, setting up a showdown for top of the group with 1966 winners England.
It used to be that Belgium would be underdogs against England, but there is no doubt that the balance has shifted between the two teams. Belgium lack the history and experience in major tournaments but in all areas of the pitch they are far superior to England, they simply cannot match the quality of Courtois, Kompany, De Bruyne, Hazard plus many more. England is still a tough match and could end up causing some serious problems. However, with the strength in depth and the stars that Belgium have in their squad, I think they will have enough to get at least a draw and potentially all three points. Therefore, Belgium should qualify as group leaders but if not, it is almost a guarantee that they will go through into the knockout rounds.
The benefits do not stop there, once they get past the group stages they will face a team from Group H which is likely to be either Poland or Columbia. Neither of these teams will be an easy victory, but they are certainly weaker than many other teams which will make the last 16.
The Golden Generation
Belgian football is currently the strongest they have ever been. They have superstars left right and centre, playing in the top tier of footballs top leagues and shining brightly under the best coaches in world football. At one point the likes of Lukaku, De Bruyne, Hazard and Mertens were players with potential to be great, now they have rose above even the highest of expectations. There are leaders all over the pitch headed up by the captain Vincent Kompany who has been one of the best centre-backs in world football over the last 5 years. This team is filled with great players who are certainly good enough to really threaten in the latter stages of the tournament. On the other hand top class players do not mean a top class team. England found this out several years ago with top class players like Gerrard, Lampard, Beckham, Terry, Ferdinand and Owen not able to work together to bring international success. This will be the challenge and it is up to Roberto Martinez to bring it out of them.
Free flowing attacking management
Since taking over as manager, Roberto Martinez has focused on attacking football and allowing his best and most influential players the freedom to move how they want and base a team around them. De Bruyne and Eden Hazard are yet to show their brilliance in big tournaments at international level, but with the help of Martinez leading into this World Cup that could all change. Belgium in qualifying scored 43 goals in just ten games showing how devastating they can be going forward. This was of course against lesser teams but it is an illustration of what is possible for this star-studded team.
Strength in Depth
We are well aware of the stars in this Belgium team in the 23 man squad, however there is many players which will not be so well known, but still could be massive for the success of the team, whether that is from the bench or for squad rotation. Youri Tielemans is still young but since his move from Anderlecht to AS Monaco he is shown that he has a really bright future ahead and could shine if given a chance to play in Russia. Also in midfield Leander Dendoncker can provide a defensive approach to a game if needed and the younger brother of Eden, Thorgan Hazard is coming into the summer in great form after a superb year in the Bundesliga, making it into the Team of the Year. Therefore, Martinez has options at his disposal which can easily support injuries, squad rotations and options with both youth and experience in the squad.
Possible Line up
This is what I think is the likely line up for Belgium. Martinez likes the 3-4-3 system with goals coming from all areas of the attack and midfield. When defending its likely Meunier will drop back to a right back position with Yan Vertonghen going across to left back with either Moussa Dembele/Axel Witsel/Marouane Fellaini sitting in front of a more conventional back four. Eden Hazard will be looking to come inside often and give Carrasco the licence to use the wide channels to stretch the opposition. Depending on the opposition De Bruyne may play centrally or out on the right with Mertens being switched out for a more defensive minded central midfielder to partner Dembele.
What do you think of Belgium’s chances in Russia? Do you agree with my predicted line up or do you think it could different? Do you think there is another team which will come out of the pack this summer? I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions in the comments down below.