Can Belgium conquer Brazil 2014?
Over the past few decades the Belgium national side has never looked a side that could win either the World Cup or the European Championship, with their best finish being during the 1986 World Cup where they finished fourth, and coming runners up in the 1980 European Championship.
Belgium have shot up the FIFA World Rankings since June 2007 (where they was ranked 71st), to the 11th position they found themselves in as of February 2014, thanks to an undefeated World Cup qualification campaign.
It’s to no one’s surprise that the current Belgium side is the best assembled in their modern history but does anyone actually think that they could leave Brazil as World Champions or possibly compete with the likes of Germany, Spain, Argentina and Brazil?
Simon Mignolet, 26, has been showcasing his talent in the Premier League for years with Sunderland and Liverpool, and has been a key aspect to Liverpool’s successful season so far (playing in all of Liverpool’s 28 Premier League matches since joining the club). Yet Mignolet is unlikely to feature in Belgium’s starting squad because of Thibaut Courtois, 21, who is enjoying his third successive loan spell at Atletico Madrid from Chelsea. The young goalkeeper is making a name for himself as one of the top goalkeepers in the world, especially this season keeping 13 clean sheets in Atletico’s impressive season (a season where they are still in contention for the La Liga title).
Premier League fans are also well aware of the talent in the defensive aspect of the Belgium squad, seeing the likes of Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany, 27, Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen, 26, and even Thomas Vermaelen, 28. Arguably Vermaelen is past his best, after making only 7 appearances for Arsenal this season, but he was once one of the better centre backs in the Premier League a few seasons back. He is a longshot to get selected for the World Cup squad, but with the defender featuring in Arsenal’s 1-1 draw with Bayern Munich on Tuesday 11th, there is perhaps an opportunity for Vermaelen to gain more first team football and re-kindle his past form, even if this does appear unlikely.
The other highlights in Belgium’s defensive duties, away from the Premier League, include the experienced Bayern Munich centre back Daniel van Buyten, 36, Zenit St. Petersburg’s Nicolas Lombaerts, 28, and Atletico Madrid’s Toby Alderweireld, 25, who add that extra layer of cover at the back.
The Belgium midfields are again showcasing their talent in the Premier League. Players such as Moussa Dembélé, 26 and Marouane Fellaini, 26, have developed in the Premier League over the last few years. Dembélé moved to the Premier League in 2010 from Dutch side AZ to Fulham, and then after a successful spell with the London club moved to Tottenham for a fee in the region of £15m and has continued to impress at Spurs since 2012. Fellaini, like Dembélé, has impressed over the last few years, but as more of a powerhouse in central midfield, and after an impressive five year career with Everton, made a big money move (around £27m) to Manchester United at the beginning of this season.
Nacer Chadli, 24, (a right footed, left midfielder also of Tottenham), ex-Chelsea player Kevin de Bruyne, 22, Roma’s Radja Nainggolan, 25, and Zenit’s Axel Witsel, 25, make up the rest of their highlights in midfield and all bar de Bruyne have found the net this season. The likely midfielders to start are Witsel (4 international appearances this season), Fellaini (4 appearances) and de Bruyne, though this is a very grey area due to the depth and talent the side have in the midfield area.
Belgium’s attacking presence is something that can match that of this year’s favourites at the World Cup, with their mixture of skill and strength. Eden Hazard, 23, is playing better than he ever has since joining Chelsea in 2012, scoring 15 times in all competitions this season. The young winger is delighting Chelsea fans this season and can hold the accolade of being one of the best performers in the Premiere League this year. Another Chelsea attacker, though on loan at Everton, is the powerhouse of Romelu Lukaku, 20, who had a successful campaign on loan at West Brom last season and again continued his form at Everton, scoring 10 league goals this year. Lukaku and Everton/ Belgium teammate, Kevin Mirallas, 26, have been key figures in Everton’s season so far (where they currently sit 7th). Though Mirallas took some time to settle into life in the Premier League since his move to Goodison Park in 2012, he has come out of his shell and produced some pieces of magic and excellence, scoring key goals along the way.
Dries Mertens, 26, moved to Napoli at the beginning of this season after his impressive two year spell with PSV, (where he scored 37 times in 62 matches), and though his goal scoring record hasn’t carried over in terms of that at PSV he is an attacking threat in the final third of the pitch, finding the net 7 times this season. The final addition to the many Belgium players finding a home in the Premier League is Christian Benteke, 23. The Aston Villa striker marked his debut season in the Premier League in great fashion last year with 19 league goals, and though the impact hasn’t been as prolific this year he is still a goal threat, finding the net 10 times in all competitions this year. Benteke is likely to start on the bench, given that players such as Lukaku are still fit in June.
Yes the Belgium national side is a group of very young players but you can’t argue the fact that they have no experience, as the majority of their squad play week-in week-out for some of Europe’s top sides, ten of which for Premier League teams. The talent this squad has should easily result in Belgium topping Group H at the World Cup (with the rest of Group H made up of Algeria, Russia and Korea Republic), but many people can’t see them progressing much further than that, especially after their last three results, losing 0-2 to Columbia, 2-3 to Japan and then drawing 2-2 on March 5th to Ivory Coast.
Crazy things can happen at a World Cup and with Belgium being behind the likes of Brazil, Germany, Spain and Argentina as favourites to be crowned World Champions that could perhaps work in Belgium’s favour by less pressure being on their players and could take the competition by surprised. You can’t argue that the talent isn’t there, and let’s face it crazier things have happened in the last ten years, just think back to Euro 2004 where Greece was crowed European Champions in Portugal.
Wrote by Conor Rees - @Conor93Rees
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