The Belgium national team should be England fans’ second team at Euro 2016 as Marc Wilmot’s squad may stand a better chance of actually winning the competition.
With so many of the squad playing in the Premier League it is entirely possible that the majority of the Belgian starting XI could be made in England.
Having not qualified for a European Championships since 2000 when they co-hosted the competition, it is as long ago as 1984 when Belgium qualified by virtue of their footballing ability.
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Their very own ‘golden generation’ have recovered from the relative disappointment of the World Cup in Brazil where Wilmot’s squad finished top of their group before losing 1-0 to eventual finalists Argentina at the quarter-final stage.
Casting that disappointment aside, Belgium go into Euro 2016 after qualifying top of their group, losing just once to a Gareth Bale goal against Wales at the Cardiff City stadium. Now having been drawn in Group E with 2012 finalists Italy, Republic of Ireland and Sweden, the Belgians are expected to qualify for the knockout stages as one of the top two.
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Their 47-year-old manager is hoping that, with a core of Premier League players, his team do not suffer the same degree of fatigue and injury that constantly plagues England’s chances at the tournament stage of major championships.
With Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany set to be missing after his Bernabeu breakdown, it paves the way for Tottenham's defensive pairing of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen to try to keep out the best strikers in Europe.
Behind the Spurs duo are Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois and Liverpool’s Simon Mignolet. With both goalkeepers having some problems this season, they have both still managed to survive the Premier League pressure cooker. Courtois is favoured ahead of the Anfield stopper, but much maligned Mignolet remains an able deputy.
Courtois’ Stamford Bridge team-mate Eden Hazard is a sure starter and his late season return to form could not have come at a better time. Having been named captain in the absence of Kompany, the 25-year-old has a great deal resting on his slight shoulders.
After not scoring at all for most of the season, his recent goals against Spurs and Liverpool are part of a run of four goals in four games and have reminded everyone just why he was voted PFA Player of the Year last season.
Mousa Dembele should definitely feel rested for Euro 2016 after receiving a six-match ban for gouging Diego Costa in the ‘Battle of the Bridge’ which extinguished Spurs’ last hope of lifting the league title. The tough tackling 28-year-old is a perfect partner as he able to relieve Hazard of the defensive duties that so constrained his Premier League performances under previous Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho.
Adding Marouane Fellaini and Kevin de Bruyne into the midfield mix may make some England fans start to wish they could change their nationality.
De Bruyne has been nothing short of a revelation this season for Manchester City since his transfer from Wolfsburg and his £54 million fee does not seem to be weighing him down.
Merseyside trio Christian Benteke, Divock Origi, Romelu Lukaku make a formidable forward line and Origi’s rapid recovery from his ankle ligament injury should see him fit and raring to go for Belgium’s opening game against Italy on June 13.
Manchester United’s Adnan Januzaj, Spurs’ Nacer Chadli and Everton’s Kevin Mirallas may not make the starting XI, or even the final squad, but that merely highlights the strength in depth of the Belgian squad, and that reflects very well indeed on the strength of the English Premier League.
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