Belgium pulled off the comeback of the World Cup on Monday, clawing their way back from two goals down with 20 minutes remaining to snatch a 3-2 win at the death.
The defeat of Japan also will have brought back strong memories for Everton supporters, who witnessed the trio of Roberto Martinez, Romelu Lukaku, and Marouane Fellaini at Goodison Park in recent years.
All three played a vital role in the Red Devils’ historic comeback and provided a reminder of what might have been for Toffees supporters.
Martinez, who managed Everton from 2013-2016, inspired the match with two unlikely substitutions that directly led to Belgium’s goals.
Down 2-0, the Spaniard threw on Nacer Chadli and former Blue Marouane Fellaini – moves that were maligned by many observers.
Fellaini (who spent five glorious seasons at Goodison before departing for Old Trafford in 2013) nodded home the equaliser, and Chadli swept in the stoppage winner with the last attack of the match.
In addition, former Everton striker Romelu Lukaku, who spent four years with the Toffees from 2013-2017, provided the delicate dummy that allowed Chadli a tap-in at the far post.
The last-16 win had a distinctive Merseyside taste to it, and Everton supporters could well rue the departures of all three involved with the Belgium set up.
Fellaini undoubtedly enjoyed his best football at Everton, playing in a more advanced midfield role and taking the league by storm with his powerful attacking displays.
Martinez divided opinion during his time in the north west, but perhaps should have been given more time to build on his early successes at Goodison.
And Lukaku was the perfect striker for Everton’s recent history, banging in 68 goals in 141 appearances and terrorising opposition backlines.
Everton supporters would most likely jump at the opportunity to have all three Red Devils back at Goodison Park, but for now will have to settle for watching them take on Brazil in the quarterfinals.
And that wasn’t all for the Everton-Belgium connections: following the full-time whistle, Everton youngster David Henen tweeted out his admiration for his former manager.
— David Henen (@HenenDavid) July 2, 2018
Henen, a Belgian youth international, was signed by Martinez on loan in 2014 and then permanently in 2015.
Nonetheless, the promising attacker appears destined to depart Goodison Park this summer as well, leaving the club short of yet another Belgian talent.
Exclusive: Thorgan Hazard – Belgium’s World Cup chances and facing England in Group G
The Belgian international discusses his countries hopes at the upcoming World Cup.
The World Cup is fast approaching and the excitement is beginning to build as the club season draws to an end.
Belgium are going to be England’s biggest challenge in Group G, with the other two teams being Tunisia and Panama.
The two European nations are set to face each other on the 28th June in the final group match and it is likely that the fixture will decide who goes through in first place.
England will know the Belgium squad well, as a lot of their players ply their trade in England.
However, Thorgan Hazard is less known to English defenders and the Borussia Monchengladbach attacker could have a role to play this summer.
Roberto Martinez is a big fan of the 25-year-old and has included him in the majority of squads since becoming manager of the Red Devils.
He may not have had the success of his older brother, Eden, at international level but he has collected seven caps and one goal for his country.
At the age of 25, he is approaching the peak years of his career and it would be great for his development if he could announce himself on the global stage.
In an exclusive interview with The Boot Room, Hazard spoke about his hopes for both Belgium and himself this summer.
“I hope to be part of the Belgian team travelling to Russia. Since our current coach Roberto Martinez took over, I was invited to all matches and could also make a few matches.
“The decision is of course with the coach. I have to show good performances in the club, then we will see. Of course, it would be very special for me if I could be there.”
It won’t be easy for Hazard to get into the team this summer, as Belgium have their own Golden Generation at the moment and Martinez has a number of talented attackers available to him.
Eden Hazard is likely to be the key man, but Romelu Lukaku, Dries Mertens and Michy Batshuayi have all had good campaigns for top European clubs. Meanwhile, Divock Origi, Kevin Mirallas and Yannick Carrasco all provide solid options for Martinez.
Although the younger Hazard brother won’t be one of the first names on the team-sheet, he has had his best season in professional football and stood out as the best player at Monchengladbach this season.
It has been a year of progression from the 25-year-old and his regular involvement with the national side shows that his manager has taken notice.
Hazard is currently the leading scorer for Monchengladbach with nine goals in the Bundesliga, which is his best return for a single league season. His consistency has been impressive, as he has averaged 2.01 chances created and 2.59 shots per ninety minutes. The attacker has been a regular threat to defences.
To put his performances into context, his older brother has averaged 3.13 chances created and 2.67 shots per ninety minutes for Chelsea. Considering Eden is playing in a superior team and has more opportunity to express himself, these stats show the quality of Thorgan.
“I think it’s the best generation of footballers Belgium has ever had. Of course, we want to go far at this World Cup, beyond as in 2014. But winning this title is very difficult. Everything has to fit, including health and luck in the matches.”
It is the pinnacle of the sport to lift the World Cup and Belgium have never managed to do it in their history. That isn’t surprising due to their size, but the names listed earlier show the quality that they currently possess. There is a belief that this is their best chance and Hazard clearly agrees with that. In 2014, they got experience in the tournament and reached the quarter-final stage, but they will be looking to improve of that this summer.
They will go into this summer with confidence after easing through their qualification group. Although they didn’t have the most difficult opposition, they managed to win nine of their ten matches and scored an incredible 43 goals, which averaged out at over four per game. Martinez has given the squad license to play attacking football and that certainly plays to their strengths.
However, Hazard is right to allude to the difficulty of winning the World Cup. Only one nation can do it every four years and Belgium won’t be one of the favourites. They will need everything to click and get the bit of luck required to go deep into a tournament. The first challenge will be England and the Monchengladbach winger spoke of the benefits his country will gain from having a number of Premier League players in the squad.
“Many of the best Belgian footballers play in the Premier League. So, we know many English players well. But it makes a difference whether you play against them with the club team or meet each other with the national teams. We will definitely do everything we can to win this difficult and important group game.”
They do have an advantage through knowing the English players well, but England have the same knowledge that could prove an important factor. This is why those that play in other top European leagues could be crucial in the final group game. Mertens, Radja Nainggolan and the younger Hazard could all be key figures for the Red Devils.
This summer will be special for the Hazard family. It is rare for two siblings to play to a high level in professional football and even rarer for them to feature alongside each other at a World Cup. It could be a tournament that takes both players to a new level.
Is Roberto Martinez the man to take Belgium to international success?
The announcement of Roberto Martinez as Belgium manager came as a bit of a surprise to most of us but in reality, it actually makes sense. Belgium needed a new manager and Roberto Martinez was one of the most high-profile currently without a job, so a match made in heaven?
Well since Martinez was sacked by Everton at the end of last season for poor results and less than entertaining performances you could understand why some Belgium fans are not overjoyed at the appointment. Mocking images from Wayne Rooney’s testimonial match against Everton pictured Romelu Lukaku in various facial expressions with what fans made out to be his reaction to the news that his former boss was now once again his manager. The fans reaction on social media to this would suggest that they believe Lukaku would not be thrilled at the prospect of a reunion despite Martinez signing the Belgium striker for a club record fee of £28 million.
Applause was given when Everton announced back in 2013 that Martinez would take over from David Moyes, after guiding Wigan Athletic to FA cup glory it was obvious that the Spaniard had talent and deserved his chance at a bigger club and Everton were the ones to give him that chance.
His first season at Everton was a successful one, just missing out on Champions League football and finishing above Manchester United, recording their first double over the Red Devils since 1970. Martinez promised to bring Europe’s finest competition to Goodison Park but despite finishing 5th in his first season the club backtracked finishing a disappointing 11th after never really recovering from a poor start to the season.
Despite taking Everton to two domestic semi-finals last season it was not enough to save his job as fans called for his sacking. When various Premier League jobs became available amazingly Martinez has not really mentioned for any of them, Southampton, Hull, Sunderland all changing managers in the pre-season. But Belgium is his new destination and will be looking to revitalise the country that went into Euro 2016 as second in the FIFA rankings only to be easily beaten by Wales in the Quarter Finals.
There is no doubt Belgium have one of the strongest squads individually. Players like Eden Hazard, Lukaku, Vincent Kompany, Tibo Courtois to name just a few but they have failed to fulfil their potential as a team. Looking back at the competition it really was a missed opportunity by the Belgians with the left-hand side of the draw wide open and Portugal, the eventual surprise winners coming from what looked the easy side of the tree.
Martinez’s first game in charge of his first ever international side will be a friendly against Julen Lopetegui’s Spain side who will play their first game, not under the management of Vincent Del Bosque. Their first World Cup qualifier is against Cyprus on September 6th in a group they should easily win with their main competition coming from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Greece in group H. Failure to qualify for the World Cup would surely spell a brief time in international management for Martinez, anything less than top of the group will put him under enormous pressure.
There is an argument for saying that Martinez would have suited the Hull managerial position over jumping into international management at such a big team. Hull fits the bill in terms of the pedigree of where he is right now and could have steered them to survival while maybe having a run in one of the cups but the former Wigan and Swansea manager wants to test himself in new waters.
As for playing style, Belgium did not exactly light up Euro 2016, their 4-0 win over Hungary an obvious highlight but the other games were drab affairs so Martinez has the chance to stamp his own mark over the players most of which he has seen a great deal of in the Premier League or even previously managed himself.
Belgium’s greatest strength is Chelsea’s Eden Hazard so you feel unlocking the best out of him will be the first thing on Martinez’s list. With so many high profile players there are not many positions that don’t have great players filling them. The team is there, it is up to the new manager to bring this Belgium side together so they can reach their potential.
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Do Southampton really need to acquire the services of Jordan Lukaku?
Reports across the UK this week have claimed that Southampton are interested in left-back and brother of Romelu, Jordan Lukaku.
The Belgian defender is currently playing for K.V. Oostende in his home country but is now being linked with a move to the Premier League.
At 21 years of age there is no doubt that Lukaku has plenty of time to develop his game but do Southampton and manager Claude Puel really need to spend money on a left-back?
Lukaku played in the quarterfinal of Euro 2016 against Wales where he filled in for the injured Jan Vertonghen in his nations’ 3-1 defeat.
Based on that performance, the Saints would be much better off focusing their minds on positions that need filling, such as a winger or a striker, because the defender appeared to be out of his depth.
The inflated prices of young players would probably result in the club paying well over the market value for a signature that the Saints do not need.
One of the highlights of the south coast clubs’ preseason was seeing England left-back Ryan Bertrand sign a new contract.
The ex-Chelsea defender signed a new five-year contract earlier this month and has become a fan favourite and a certain starter.
Bertrand’s understudy comes in the form of academy graduate, Matt Targett, who put together a string of impressive performances, whilst playing in a 5-3-2 formation last season.
Lukaku is able to boast a height and power greater than both Bertrand and Targett but showed nervousness on the ball.
Bertrand has found himself on both corner and occasionally, free kick duty due to his ability to whip the ball with his left foot.
Additionally, Southampton fans are extremely proud of players that come through the academy and they possess far more patience with these players.
For example, midfielder James Ward-Prowse has failed in recent seasons to live up to expectations but still has full support of the fans. Targett earned the respect of the fans last season when the team went through a difficult patch of results but the 20-year-old remained as one of the standout performers.
Puel, Les Reed and the rest of the board at Southampton should be aiming to bolster their attacking options in preparation for next seasons’ Europa League campaign and avoid paying absurd money for Lukaku.
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