World Cup History: Semifinals (1986)
World Cup History: Semifinals (1986)
Belgium is being touted as the ‘dark horse’ this world cup, and rightly so. They are clear non-favourites for the tournament, but dangerous nonetheless. An opponent such as the one just described generally has a few unknown quantities, should it be a team sport, and a sprinkle of proven talents thrown into the mix.
Belgium’s is a special case – with a tremendously talented group of footballers born within a decade of each other in a display of coincidence that only fate itself could have designed.
Dark horses or not, Belgium will certainly be competing beyond the first couple of weeks of the World Cup if their qualification campaign is anything to go by.
History at the World Cup
Founding members of FIFA, Belgium have taken part in 11 FIFA World Cup™ final tournaments and were an ever-present force between 1982 and 2002.
The current golden batch is the second such group for Belgium, with Wilmots being part of the previous lot. Having endured a rather, well, plain, patch between 1930 and 1970-they won only one match in the five tournaments they were involved in before 1982-Belgium qualified for six straight World Cups starting 1982.
The original Belgian Golden Generation reached the knock-out stage five out of six times between 1982 and 2002, with only two goals in extra-time by Bernard Genghini and Manuel Amoros pushing them down to fourth place in their third-place tie against France in 1986.
On paper, Belgium can call upon an armada of stars, all plying their trade in Europe’s most prestigious championships. The depth of their talent pool is striking; with Nacer Chadli threatening to eclipse crowd favourite Eden Hazard before the latter has approached anything near his peak.
Romelu Lukaku, Kevin de Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois and Toby Alderweireld are the latest stars to emerge, while the likes of Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen, Axel Witsel, Marouane Fellaini and Steven Defour have already established themselves as senior figures.
A clear deficiency in Belgium’s squad is the lack of full-backs of the same level as the rest of the players. While the centre of defence is as solid as they come, Laurent Ciman, Anthony Vanden Borre and Nicolas Lombaerts do not have the same aura around them as Vincent Kompany or Jan Vertonghen.
The striking options are a bit thin on the back of Benteke’s injury, with Lukaku and Dries Martens being the only forwards, although Kevin Mirallas could depute should the need arise.
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’s top-scorer in World Cups is also their coach. Marc Wilmots, who scored five as a mid-fielder in 1998 and 2002, has 28 overall in 78 games for the national team.
Wilmots first took charge of the national side in May 2012 after having served as assistant manager under Dick Advocaat and Georges Leekens.
Nicknamed as “War Pig” while a player at Schalke, Wilmots is not likely to succumb to the pressures of the World Cup, having scored during the game and converted the decisive penalty in the shoot-out when Schalke beat Roy Hodgson’s Inter Milan in the 1997 Uefa Cup final.
Not only is the Anderlecht academy graduate a fine defender, he’s a leader of men. His motivational skills, organization and the manner in which he leads by example will all be crucial qualities in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of a major tournament.
Kompany has won trophies and performed superbly in many big games and that experience will be vital if his team are to go long into the tournament. Belgium’s chances will be a whole lot more realistic if he’s at the peak of his powers; a simply irreplaceable presence.
Best starting XI
It would not be too far off the mark to say that choosing Belgium’s best starting eleven is akin to picking the best eleven from a particular league at the end of the season. The Belgian squad is full of stars of frightening ability, and picking one player over another for someone other than Wilmots could very well be a result of a personal bias/preference.
Goalkeeper: Thibaut Courtois
Defenders: Thomas Vermaelen, Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld
Midfielders: Steven Defour, Axel Witsel, Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Kevin Mirallas
Forward: Romelu Lukaku
The group stage should be a formality if football was played on paper. Belgium share their group with Russia, Soutk Korea and Algeria, and should they finish top of their group, they could end up facing Portugal-unless a certain Cristiano Ronaldo drags Portugal to the top the group.
In that case, the Germans would most likely await Belgium, making progression beyond the second round mighty difficult.