Belgian football has improved dramatically over the last few years, with a noted influx into the Premier League especially.
However, the question remains as to whether they can come together as a national squad and be the dark horses for World Cup glory.
They have already secured their place in the competition next summer and are likely to finish top of their qualifying group, although Croatia are making life difficult for them in this regard. If the Belgians can go through their next few games unbeaten, it will be clear that they are possible contenders come next summer.
The recent surge in Belgian prowess is highlighted most poignantly by the fact that they, as a national side, had only managed to qualify for one of the last seven European Championships and neither of the previous two World Cups! Now, however, they are a side with an abundance of pace, power, experience and technical ability. They are also led by Marc Wilmots who has seen these players develop at Under-19, Under-21 and now senior levels. If anyone knows these players at their abilities well, it is this man.
In goal, Belgium can take their pick of the youth and vitality of either Chelsea stopper, Thibaut Courtois or Sunderland’s Simon Mignolet. They can also rely on the experienced Jean-Francois Gillet, of Torino, should they need to. There are few national sides currently who would not gladly take such options, barring, perhaps, Germany and Spain.
One of the most prominent aspects of this Belgian squad is their experienced defensive prowess, most notably in the forms of captain, Vincent Kompany and his powerful deputy, Daniel Van Buyten. However, to this they can also boast some intelligent and talented younger players like Tottenham centre-back Jan Vertonghen who has proven adeptly flexible, working at left-back for both Spurs and “Les Diables Rouges” (Belgium’s nickname). He is likely to be at the heart of their defence for many years to come. Toby Alderweireld also appears to be another individual who provides superb cover and adaptability for head coach Marc Wilmots to choose.
The sheer power and pace that has been developed in their midfield has made Belgium one of the most feared teams in International football. Usually being employed as a 4-5-1 or 4-3-3, Marouane Fellaini, Moussa Dembele and Axel Witsel epitomise this sentiment. The young Kevin De Bruyne is also one to watch for, as possibly one of the best up and coming, technical footballers of his generations. On the wings, Belgium are also highly blessed, as they have the world-class Eden Hazard; talented Nacer Chadli; rapid Kevin Mirallas and goal-scoring winger Dries Mertens. This is clearly a plethora of talent, with the only issue, being how to choose between them, without disrupting the overall balance of the squad.
Finally, in attack, they can call upon two of the most feared strikers in the Premier League: Christian Benteke and Romelu Lukaku, who hit 36 goals between them this season for Aston Villa and West Brom, respectively. Both hugely powerful, superb in the air and even great with their feet, these two are future world superstars to be sure.
With all of these factors considered, one point that is hard to avoid is the lack of World Cup and European Championship experience. However, almost all of their players are currently performing at the top levels for their respective clubs, so this may not be as great a problem as feared. They will also be going up against some of the biggest names in World Football: Spain, Germany, Argentina, Italy, France and England.
As a football fan, I truly hope that this team fulfils their destiny and perform to a high standard next summer. However, as an Englishmen, I am hoping they achieve all of this, but maybe with an off day against the three Lions.
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