Just four years ago, Belgium tussled and tried to make it to the 2010 World Cup and the subsequent Euro 2012. They failed in both endeavours. This year, the Belgian outfit has finally matured. They breezed past the qualifiers and could possibly make an unlikely charge towards international triumph in Brazil.
Many familiar faces from the Belgian squad of the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 qualifiers will be seen in Rio De Janeiro. The likes of Eden Hazard, Daniel Van Buyten, Marouane Fellaini, Mousa Dembele, Kevin Mirallas, and Thomas Vermaelen were in the 2010 World Cup team that failed to qualify. In the upcoming World Cup, they will be in a team that are favourites to top Group H.
The difference in the four years leading up to this World Cup has been massive for Belgium’s squad. Promising youngsters have matured to full-fledged professionals who will form the core of their country’s charge in Rio de Janeiro. Eden Hazard emerges as a standout star for Belgium. The 23-year-old had a stellar season for Chelsea, scoring 14 goals and assisting seven in 34 English Premier League (EPL) appearances. However, the strength of Belgium’s squad does not lie on one man. Yes, Hazard gives hope to Belgium, no mistake about that. But, the ‘Red Devils’ have a solid team with strength in all departments, do not overlook that.
Thibaut Courtois was arguably the best goalkeeper last season and was a pivotal figure in Atlético Madrid’s run to La Liga glory and the Champion’s League final. He kept 20 clean sheets in 37 La Liga games en route to Atlético Madrid’s La Liga win and is only 22 this year.
The Chelsea player did not even featured in Belgium’s 2010 World Cup qualifying team but he is now a crucial figure in the Belgium squad. He is the first choice goalkeeper and even the impressive Simon Mignolet, who helped Liverpool to finish second in the EPL last season, can only sit on the bench and play second fiddle.
Protecting Thibaut Courtois from the best footballing nations in the world is a strong solid shield. Vincent Kompany heads to Brazil on the back of EPL success with Manchester City. He will lead the Belgian defence and captain the side. An influential figure for both club and country, Kompany will line up alongside the likes of Thomas Vermaelen, Jan Vertonghen, and Daniel Van Buyten.
The Belgium defenders are all established in their own rights. Thomas Vermaelen captains the Arsenal’s side, Jan Vertonghen plays for Tottenham and Daniel Van Buyten is an experienced Bayern Munich defender. Van Buyten may not see much playing time now, but his experience will certainly complement the youthful Belgium brigade.
Eden Hazard has risen from a youthful teenager in Belgium’s 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign to a midfield maestro who not only conjures chances but score goals as well. He operates mainly down the left-wing and torments defenders with his skilful dribbling and pacey runs. Kevin Mirallas, who had a great season with Everton in the EPL where he notched eight apiece for goals and assists in 32 games, will relish the chance to work his magic on the opposite flank.
In the centre of the pitch, Mousa Dembele, Alex Witsel and Marouane Fellaini will provide the creativity and cover. Both Dembele and Fellaini are great holders of the ball but the similarities end there. Dembele furnishes Belgium with precise passing and links the defence and attack while Fellaini is more adept at hassling opponents and providing aerial prowess. The latter did not have a great season with Manchester United but his qualities could still come through under Belgium’s coach Marc Wilmots.
A Belgian that really came through this season is Romelu Lukaku. The forlorn Chelsea striker found success on loan at Everton, where he spearheaded Everton’s charge towards Champions League qualification. He bagged 15 league goals and created six in 33 games. Lukaku’s massive frame makes him a great target man and with the wealth of talent in Belgium’s side, chances to hit the target is likely to be plenty.
Fellow countryman and EPL player Christian Benteke can also be counted on to produce the goods and in similar fashion. He too, is built like Lukaku and will use that to his advantage at the World Cup.
Belgium, on paper, has a side that matches the great teams over the globe. Whether they will be able to excel in Brazil remains to be seen, but after arriving in Rio de Janeiro by finishing top of their World Cup qualifying group and going unbeaten, they could very well go all the way at the World Cup Finals.
By Abriel Tay