Watch out for the Hazard - Belgium World Cup Preview
Arguably the most hyped up nation ahead of this year’s World Cup, Belgium go to Brazil with high expectation’s put upon them by everyone bar the Belgian public. A fantastic, young squad from front to back, they do have a good squad player by player but can they gel and live up to the dark horses tag so many have thrown on them?
Belgium breezed through their qualification group without losing any of their 10 games. Croatia, Serbia, Wales, Scotland and Macedonia made no match for the Belgians as they walked through the group without a scratch. Their easy qualification shows just part of the reason why so many people are putting the small European side as their dark horses to go as far as winning the World Cup, or just reaching the semi-final, which would equal the Belgian’s World Cup record.
Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea); Simon Mignolet (Liverpool) ; Koen Casteels (Hoffenheim)
Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Atletico Madrid); Laurent Ciman (Standard Liege); Nicolas Lombaerts (Zenit St Petersburg); Vincent Kompany (Manchester City); Daniel Van Buyten (Bayern Munich); Anthony Vanden Borre (Anderlecht); Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal); Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham Hotspur)
Midfielders: Nacer Chadli (Tottenham Hotspur); Moussa Dembele (Tottenham Hotspur); Steven Defour (Porto); Kevin De Bruyne (Wolfsburg); Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United); Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United); Eden Hazard (Chelsea); Kevin Mirallas (Everton); Axel Witsel (Zenit St Petersburg); Divock Origi (Lille)
Forwards: Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea); Dries Mertens (Napoli)
Standby : Sammy Bossut (Zulte Waregem); Jelle Van Damme (Standard Liege); Guillaume Gillet (Anderlecht); Sebastien Pocognoli (Hannover 96); Thorgan Hazard (Chelsea) ; Radja Nainggolan (Roma); Michy Batshuayi (Standard Liege)
Vincent Kompany: Captain for both his club and his country, the now 28 year old centre back has grown into one of the best in world football. When he’s been absent for Manchester City in the last two years, his presence has been missed in their back four, and the exact same would happen if he was to miss any Belgium games. Charismatic and a typical leader on the field, Kompany is essential to keeping a back four of four centre backs together, as one unit in front of Courtois. If Belgium are to go far, they have to be defensively solid.
Eden Hazard: An obvious choice really? The man who brings the flair to the Premier League will be looking to take his pace and silky skills to the samba capital of the world. The stand out player in the Belgium side, Hazard is another player who will be so key if they are to get far. The only thing stopping Hazard is the fact everyone knows who he is, and all eyes will be on him, which may open up the stage for other players, but plenty of Premier League defenders know Eden Hazard and I think you could count on one hand the ones who have ever stopped him. A sensational player, and the main man.
Romelu Lukaku: To complete the spine of the side you can’t look much further than the 6”3 Chelsea man. With Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke ruled out of the squad through injury, Lukaku is the only striker named in the squad by Marc Wilmots. In the official squad list, Dries Mertens is listed as a “forward” as you would have seen above, but he plays the majority of his games in the midfield, not as an out and out striker. If the other two players mentioned do there jobs, Lukaku proves just as vital to convert the tonnes of chances Belgium’s attacking flair will put on a plate for him. Only 21 years old, there’s a lot of pressure on the youngster, but this tournament could really be his coming of age and the spring board to potentially more first team action at Premier League giants Chelsea.
Possible Starting Line-Up
Wilmots has chopped and changed the squad throughout qualifying and in the friendlies so it’s difficult to pin down a starting-11 come the first game against Algeria. The team above is the team I would select in Wilmots shoes, showcasing all of Belgium’s attacking talent, and the unorthodox back four made up of all centre-backs. Regardless of what team Wilmots puts out, no doubt it will be a world-class side.
Handed a fairly easy group down in group H, Belgium will be hoping to breeze past Algeria, Russia and South Korea. If they can win their group though they will face the runner up of the group of death, and as long as it’s not Germany, I think they’ll be favourites to win that tie as well. A potential quarter final match-up against Argentina could be on the cards, and although that is very winnable, I can see Argentina using the conditions to their advantage and seeing off the inexperienced Belgian side. On a personal note, I’d love to see Belgium do really well, and considering they haven’t seen a World Cup finals since 2002, a quarter final exit would still an achievement for the young squad, with Euro 2016 and World Cup 2018 realistic targets to go out and win.