Belgians everywhere are waving the red, black, and yellow flag. Could this be the year? Could Belgium be the team that shakes up the world order? The Red Devils have never finished better than fourth, but new coach and Belgian native Marc Wilmots is looking to change all that.
Better known for its chocolate and waffles, Belgium has often been in France's shadow when it comes to football. Despite producing good players over the past few decades, this is the first year that Belgium is seriously being looked at, and it is due to the impressive performances of the young Devils in England and elsewhere. It is now clear that Belgium is to be feared and judging from how small Moussa Dembele (a strong, big player) looks in the above picture, it is safe to say that the Belgians will be in no one's shadow this time around.
The Belgians play an attacking brand of football, throwing everyone in midfield forward in attack while depending on the back four to hold down the fort. This strategy rarely fails, as the defensive line anchored and captained by Vincent Kompany concedes only sparse chances in the box. They work hard to prevent opponents from digging too deep and uses their physical presence to eliminate easy opportunities for otherwise-terrorizing attackers. The defence is stacked with brilliant, big centre backs and Wilmots often chooses these muscular bodies as full backs, adding to the physicality of the team. It is not uncommon for Tottenham's Jan Vertonghen or La Liga champion Toby Alderwield to play outside. Also on the defence and sure to make an impact are Daniel Van Buyten and Thomas Vermalean.
Despite this impressive line, the biggest piece to the puzzle of preventing goals might be young Thibaut Courtois. He has proven himself, after another incredible La Liga campaign, to be a top five goalkeeper in the world. Yes, top five. The Belgian keeper might be young, but his skill in front of the net cannot be underestimated. He is blessed with incredible length and has worked in order to become one of the best shot-stoppers today. He certainly will frustrate attackers in the World Cup, after proving that he is not bothered by pressure in the May match-up against Barcelona.
The Belgian midfield has a lot of size too, and has just about every skill set you could hope for. The attacking midfielders can defend when they need (like Dembele and De Bruyne) while the bigger, defending midfielders can sure attack as well. Alex Witsel, Steven Defour, and Marouane Fellaini certainly support the attack and can provide incisive passes. English fans will know a fair bit about this team from the big presence of Belgians in the Premier League and, no doubt, will know the talent and danger that lies in Belgium.
Eden Hazard is Belgium's best player on the wing, and looks set for a great World Cup after another great year for Chelsea. He teams up with Kevin Mirallas, Dries Mertens, and Adnan Januzaj to tear up the flanks and antagonise their opposite defenders. All are players with plenty of ability on either feet who enjoy taking on defenders one-on-one. Although young, these footballers are very smart and gifted and can provide accurate crosses, intelligent runs, and amazing goals.
The striker position will be a one man show, and no one is complaining about that. Romelu Lukaku wants out of Chelsea, and the World Cup is his chance to engineer a big move. Lukaku had another great season in the Premier League, and has been in form for Belgium as well, recently bagging a hat trick. Lukaku won't only be scoring, as he will look to find teammates making runs as well, or provide breakaway opportunities through his great hold-up play. One thing is for sure; he will provide goals in one way or another.
So what does Belgium need to do? They have the pieces. No, they might not have Messi or Ronaldo but they have one of the most balanced teams in recent memories. It is conceivable that the Red Devils could run opponents out of the stadium with their physical play and attacking mentality. The problem should not come in the group stage, where they are clearly the best team (well ahead of Algeria, Russia, and South Korea). With momentum from the group stage and a healthy roster, they will at least be dangerous.
The one thing Belgium must do is be aggressive on defence. They cannot afford to sit back and let opponents dominate possession. This would force their attacking mentality out the window and many wingers or attacking mids to be fish out of water for a long period of time. They can play the counter attack game because of the quick wingers and the strength of Lukaku, but not if they are pushed too far back. If Belgium, as many expect, are able to stay in attack and be strong in defence, they might just have a memorable and historic World Cup.
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