World Cup 2018 is knocking the doors and the 32 participating nations are now highly enthusiastic and fully focused upon completion of club football. They are proud to represent their countries in such a prestigious event and a few of them, on paper, are capable of achieving big but let the fans down massively in recent years. Belgium are probably one of them.
The Red Devils’ resurgence four years back was labelled as the rise of a football giant who inherited a star-studded squad but failed to impress much due to a lack of amalgamation. They, however, have flourished in recent years but a quarterfinal defeat to Wales in UEFA European Championship a couple of years back resulted in a dismissal of Marc Wilmots as the Belgium boss who got succeeded by former Wigan Athletic and Everton gaffer Roberto Martinez. It is to be seen now how they perform this term in order to match the monumental expectations and turn out to be the ‘dark horses’ of the competition.
Coach: Roberto Martinez
Captain: Eden Hazard
Nickname(s): Die Roten Teufel (The Red Devils)
Last Qualified: 2014
Result in 2014: Quarter-finals (Beaten by Argentina 1-0)
Qualified From: UEFA
Previous World Cup Appearances: 13 Times
Best World Cup Finals Result: Fourth place 1986
The Preliminary Squad:
GOALKEEPERS: Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg), Matz Sels (Newcastle United).
DEFENDERS: Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham Hotspur), Dedryck Boyata (Celtic), Laurent Ciman (Los Angeles FC), Christian Kabasele (Watford), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Jordan Lukaku (Lazio), 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), Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United), Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace), Nacer Chadli (West Brom).
[Final 23-man squad is yet to be announced]
1) Eden Hazard
Chelsea ace Eden Hazard has been named as Belgium skipper despite the availability of veteran Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany. The 27-year-old winger is one of the finest of the current era and one of Belgium’s greatest of all time. He will be instrumental in the Red Devils’ attack and must live up to the expectations for his nation following an ordinary season at Stamford Bridge.
2) Kevin De Bruyne
There aren’t many players in world football who have such an all round ability to dominate and dictate the flow of the game. The Manchester City superstar was pivotal in the Citizens’ record-breaking Premier League win and his emergence since being released by Chelsea has been exemplary. He will guide his nation towards the silverware if supported by fellow teammates and the manager must hand the City sensation a free role in midfield to orchestrate the game.
3) Romelu Lukaku
Although he netted 27 goals altogether in his maiden Manchester United campaign, the big ‘number 9’ is capable of offering more inside the box and must step up his game in the World Cup where he will be Martinez’s first choice centre-forward throughout the competition. He has always been clinical in front of goal in country’s colours and must maintain the composure in this prestigious event to achieve an enormous success.
Belgium had a relatively easier group in the World Cup qualifiers where they scored a record number of 43 goals and conceded only six to storm through the main event. They secured a comprehensive 4-0 friendly win over Saudi Arabia back in March but were held to a scoreless draw by Portugal last night. They have a couple of fixtures left in Egypt and Costa Rica as final preparations before contesting the scheduled group league fixtures in Russia.
Belgium have been drawn in Group G alongside England, Tunisia, and Panama. They will play Panama in their opening match on 18th of June, followed by Tunisia and England on 23nd and 28th June respectively.
Belgium are one of the strongest on paper and must perform as a team like they did in their qualifying rounds. Martinez opted to left out midfield general Radja Nainggolan which baffled many but the manager must be pretty certain about the players he selected for the contest who are capable of progressing through to the semis of the competition if work as a unit.
Belgium took part in the first ‘official’ international match outside of Britain when they played France in Brussels on 1 May 1904. The game ended in a 3-3 draw. Less than a month later, Belgium joined 6 other European countries as the founding members of the football association, FIFA. [Source: This Must Be Belgium]