They’re too young.
They’ve never played in a major tournament.
This, along with many other criticisms, will follow the Belgian Red Devils until their opening match in Brazil’s Estadio Mineirao against Algeria. Make no mistake, this Belgium squad is anything but inexperienced.
The last time the Red Devils saw themselves firmly planted in the World Cup was 12 years ago. Fast-forward to a new decade, and the fresh, young players dubbed as the “Golden Generation” are keen to not only make an impression on their country, but also to the world on the biggest stage.
A squad oozing with young talent, many pundits have already labeled the Red Devils to be the dark horses in the tournament. And while that may be true, the players will only embrace this role of the underdog throughout the tournament.
So, here’s the low-down on Belgium in this year’s World Cup:
Marc Wilmot’s Squad
Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois (Atletico Madrid, on loan from Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), Koen Casteels (Hoffenheim), Silvio Proto (Anderlecht).
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).
Midfielders: Nacer Chadli, Mousa Dembele (both Tottenham), Steven Defour (Porto), Kevin De Bruyne (Wolfsburg), Marouane Fellaini, Adnan Januzaj (both Manchester United), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Kevin Mirallas (Everton), Divock Origi (Lille), Axel Witsel (Zenit St Petersburg).
Forwards: Romelu Lukaku (Everton, on loan from Chelsea), Dries Mertens (Napoli)
Belgium, along with South Korea, Russia, and Algeria, make up for an interesting Group H. The Red Devils are the clear favorites to make it out; however, Russia and South Korea will be the two teams to make it difficult throughout the group phase.
Wilmot’s journey to the World Cup Finals saw his team hold an undefeated record during qualifying stages – eight wins and two draws. An impressive statistic, indeed, and definitely something Wilmot and his men will hope to replicate during their group performances in the tournament.
…And in order for Belgium to assure success in Group H, this is what will need to follow:
Young Star Power
It’s no secret that Belgium holds some of the finest young talent in Europe. In order for the Red Devils to take full advantage of their star power, certain players will need to step up. Take the ‘Wonderkids’ – Courtois, Eden Hazard and Adnan Januzaj.
Courtois, who just completed a fantastic loan spell at Atlético Madrid from Chelsea, is the man in between the sticks. The 22-year old had a remarkable season under Diego Simeone: a La Liga title already to his name and, more impressively, he conceded the fewest goals in La Liga earning him the prestigious Ricardo Zamora trophy. In Champions League, it was Courtois’ massive contribution (along with Simeone’s back-line) that earned them a place in the final against Real Madrid. And most importantly, Courtois will feel that he already has the necessary experience required to keep the goals from flowing in.
In Belgium’s midfield, Wilmot possesses two lethal wingers, despite one being very young – Hazard and Januzaj. Eden Hazard, the Chelsea winger, just finished his second season in London with the Blues.Hazard arguably had his best season: he created the most chances in all of Europe (92), finished as top scorer in his team (14), and finished with most assists in his team (7). If there’s anybody who can be the leader up top, it has to be Hazard.
On the flip side, there’s the young – yet promising – Januzaj. At only 19-years old, Wilmot made the decision to call up the Manchester United winger. Januzaj broke through the youth system and earned himself a spot in the senior squad for Moyes’ Manchester United early on in the season. Wilmot made the decision to call him up and the youngster will have to utilize his agility down the wing in order to make opportunities arise for Lukaku and Co.
While these ‘Wonderkids’ may be young in age and in experience, players such as Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen, Kevin Mirallas, and Mousa Dembele will offer equilibrium between the youth and the experienced within the squad.
A key player who will be vital to not only Belgium’s defense, but as well as leadership, will be none other than Vincent Kompany. The Belgian and Manchester City captain will be key to Wilmot’s fortunes in this tournament. Kompany recently won the English Premier League under Manuel Pellegrini and will be looking for nothing less than wins during the group phase. Kompany’s experience and leadership, however, will be put to the test.
Because Belgium have not been in the World Cup since 2002, Kompany will need to adjust to the pressures that come along with leading a nation to victory. With the likes of Arsenal’s Vermaelen and Tottenham’s Vertonghen, Kompany will have a great supporting cast in the back line.
The Danger Man
Romelu Lukaku, the on loan Chelsea man, will be looking to fill in some big shoes for Belgium. Christian Benteke, Wilmot’s go-to-striker, will miss the World Cup due to a serious achilles injury.
Lukaku’s loan spell at Everton this season proved he has the credentials to lead the Red Devils attack. During his time with Everton under Roberto Martinez, Lukaku scored 15 goals and, more impressively, helped place The Toffees in 5th place in the English Premier League. With support from the likes of Hazard and Co., there should be no problems in the goal department for this Belgian side.
Written by @Mikkkeey