Belgium Head Coach, Roberto Martinez, has announced a preliminary squad for the World Cup next month. As any observer of the game knows, Belgium have a plethora of talent all over the field, further posing the question as to why the national team hasn’t enjoyed more success at the top levels. In recent years, Belgium have most definitely had the blues — however, this could be set to change in Russia where De Rode Duivels will showcase their emergent midfield talent. England, and others, have cause to be wary.
A vintage year for Belgian talent
2017-18 was a fruitful period for many Belgian players. Forward, Dries Mertens, had a career year at Napoli, and Premier League household names Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku both enjoyed consistent, albeit slow, years in England. Hazard’s brother Thorgan had a good 2017-18 in Germany, finally getting to play quality first team football all season long.
Moving backwards on the field, Tottenham defenders Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen both had very solid seasons at the back of a Spurs team that allowed very few goals all year. Thomas Meunier had a fantastic season for PSG, arguably better than anyone was expecting. He truly rivaled players like Dani Alves for the starting right back spot at the Parc des Princes; this was a true achievement. Another full back who had a good year was Jordan Lukaku — the Belgium squad really is a family affair. The Lazio man experienced a consistent season, and will hope to land a starting spot in Russia too. With his pace and power, surely he will stand a chance. In goal, Thibaut Courtois had a decent enough year at Stamford Bridge, further indicating Belgium’s power and strengths at the back.
Loaded in the centre
Belgium are also blessed with a variety of midfield talents. Players like Marouane Felliani, Axel Witsel, and Moussa Dembele are fantastic at helping out the defense, with the latter in particular one of the players of the season for the same Tottenham team that brought success for the mentioned defenders.
With Belgium often enjoying to play a 4-3-3 or 3-4-3 formation, they most definitely like to keep their defensive strategy at the forefront of the game plan, and simply let Hazard and others express themselves going forward. This said, Martinez also has elected to take a couple of midfielders who offer more going forward; a great decision considering that they will be facing England early on in Russia. Young star Youri Tielemans is thought of by many as the next Patrick Viera or Xavi, and throughout his very young career, he has already experienced great successes. Similarly, Leander Dendoncker has quickly established himself as a quality box to box midfielder, and will likely earn a move out of native Belgium after the tournament.
Despite all of this, both players are very young, and very inexperienced at the international level. They have only 11 appearances and 1 goal between them at the senior level. As always, club and national football are vastly different, and some are worried that the occasion will just be too big this time around for both players, especially if they are relied upon by Martinez.
A pragmatic omission?
Another issue that many have with Martinez’s squad is his omission of Radja Nainggolan. The Roma midfielder has quickly become one of the top midfielders in Serie A, and arguably the world. He plays with passion, is a good tackler, and has an eye for a long pass or shot. Many fans are confused as to why a player like Nainggolan was left out. Rumors of a personal conflict between player and coach have swirled, however the omission of this type of player should come as no shock. All four of the ‘experienced’ Belgian midfielders stated have serious discipline problems. It is likely that Martinez simply did not want to risk taking so many of the same type of player, which is understandable.
Moreover, Martinez is known to be the type of coach to give youth a chance, further suggesting a possible reason why older players missed out. Granted, I would have taken Nainggolan over Fellaini or Witsel, but then again, these players can also play as an unorthodox forward if need be — something that the Roma man does not offer. Sometimes, it is just a matter of checking boxes, and sadly Nainggolan simply did not make the cut this time around.
Whether it is for personal conflict with Martinez, or whether it was form, it is a real shame that a player of Nainggolan’s quality will not be on show in Russia. However, we must not dwell on this, for Belgium have numerous stars that could not only breakout and blossom during the summer, but could also drive the team towards a World Cup trophy. Martinez has selected a stellar group of players that will be able to compete with just about anyone. Nevertheless, this has been the case for the past few tournaments. Now more than ever, Belgium must seize the fantastic opportunity presented to them. At 11/1 to win the tournament (see: how to win at sports betting), Belgium have a real chance this year, and should be taken seriously by each of the primary contenders. Time to make the country proud and take home some silverware.