Belgium’s golden generation is slowly ageing, so the time is now for the Red Devils.
While there is plenty of young talent coming through the likes Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard turning 30 this year and Dries Mertens, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld already into their thirties. Vincent Kompany has already retired. The last World Cup was the closest Belgium have come to international success, finishing third after losing to eventual Champions France in the semi-finals. The world’s number one ranked team are amongst the hot favourites this summer along with England and France and this might be their best chance of winning a tournament.
Group B: BELGIUM, Denmark, Finland, Russia
Manager: Roberto Martinez
Odds (PP): 13/2
Recent Tournaments: World Cup 2018 (semi-finals), Euro 2016 (quarter-finals)
FIFA World Ranking: 1st
Romelu Lukaku. Belgium’s all-time top goal scorer at the age of 28, Lukaku is well and truly in the prime of his career. His 24 league goals helped fire Inter to a first Schudetto since 2010. He also registered 10 assists, showing he can be a link man aswell as a powerhouse number nine. Him translating his club form onto the International scene, which should not be an issue with 59 goals in 91 games for the Red Devils, will be central to Belgium’s hopes and the Serie A might not be the only thing he lifts this summer.
Roberto Martinez has named his 26 players for the tournament and was one of the first managers to do so, indicating he knows his best team and players.
Thibaut Courtois is selected and will start in goals. He is off the back of two fantastic seasons at Madrid having initially struggled after his big money move from Chelsea. Former Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet and Strasbourg’s Mats Sels travel as Courtois’ understudies. Wolfsburg’s Koen Casteels unluckily misses out through injury after a stand-out campaign in the Bundesliga.
Veteran defenders and former Spurs duo Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld are selected and should start in defence. Joining them will be Lyon’s Jason Denayer, in place of the retired Vincent Kompany. Former Arsenal man Thomas Vermaelen, who now plays in Japan, is also selected, as is Hertha Berlins Dedryck Boyata.
Leicester trio Youri Tielemans, Denis Praet and Timothy Castagne are all selected. Tielemans midfield partner Axel Witsel is a surprise inclusion, having not featured for Dortmund since tearing his Achilles in January. Should he not make it back for the first few games then Wolves Leandro Dendoncker will take his place in midfield having been selected.
Out wide Thomas Meunier, Yannick Carrasco, Thorgan Hazard and 2018 round of 16 hero Nacer Chadli are all selected and will battle it out along with Castagne for the two wide positions.
The magnificent Kevin De Bruyne is named in midfield but will form part of the front three with Romelu Lukaku. The third spot is very much up for grabs. Anyone who watched Eden Hazard at the last World Cup would assume he would have that left forward slot nailed on by now, but two abysmal injury hit seasons at Real Madrid now leave his place under threat from the likes of Dries Mertens, Leandro Trossard and even brother Thorgan.
Two Crystal Palace men, Michy Batshuayi and Christian Benteke make the cut and will play second and third fiddle to Lukaku. Benteke looked to be out of the conversation completely but a strong finish to the season, scoring 4 goals in his last 5 games get him onto the plane over the likes of Divock Origi. The Liverpool man is not even on the standby list after hardly featuring at all this season and looks set to be sold this summer.
One to Watch
Jeremy Doku. The 19-year-old winger would not have expected to feature much this Summer but a loss of form to the likes of Hazard has opened an opportunity for Doku. While he is unlikely to start if he can impress of the bench in early games, he could play himself into the team by the latter stages of the tournament. Having burst onto the scene at Anderlecht he earned a €26 million move to Rennes last summer, aged just 18 and is catching the eye of many of Europe’s top clubs. His pace and trickery is next best to the out-of-sorts Hazard.
Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid), Simon Mignolet (Club Brugge), Matz Sels (Strasbourg)
Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham), Dedryck Boyata (Hertha Berlin), Jason Denayer (Lyon), Thomas Vermaelen (Vissel Kobe), Jan Vertonghen (Benfica)
Midfielders: Yannick Carrasco (Atletico Madrid), Timothy Castagne (Leicester), Nacer Chadli (Istanbul Basaksehir), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Dortmund), Thomas Meunier (Borussia Dortmund), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Leander Dendoncker (Wolves), Dennis Praet (Leicester), Youri Tielemans (Leicester), Hans Vanaken (Club Brugge), Axel Witsel (Borussia Dortmund)
Forwards: Jeremy Doku (Rennes), Eden Hazard (Real Madrid), Dries Mertens (Napoli), Leandro Trossard (Brighton), Michy Batshuayi (Crystal Palace), Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace), Romelu Lukaku (Inter Milan)