If you look at the Belgian squad on paper, you’d have to say that they look like favourites to win the World Cup in Russia in 2018. With individual stars like Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Vincent Kompany, Romelu Lukaku, Dries Mertens, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Thibaut Courtois, Belgium certainly look like a force to be reckoned with this summer. And although they qualified from an easy group, scoring a record number of goals, 43, and conceding only 6, question marks still remain over their ability to consistently perform as a team on the big stages.
The country’s best World Cup finish was in fourth place in Mexico 1986, but this squad has to be going into the tournament believing that they can win it. Although they consist of individual players with top talent, Belgium have struggled to really perform as a team on numerous occasions, most recently in their disappointing quarter-final exit from Euro 2016, where they were outplayed and beaten 3-1 by Wales. Kevin De Bruyne, although a superstar with club Manchester City this season, being the driving force behind their demolition of the English Premier League, has so far failed to live up to that form at international level. Additionally, the defensive capabilities of Kompany and Thomas Vermaelan have been questioned recently, and it will be interesting to see how they cope with the pressures on them in Russia.
- Eden Hazard (Chelsea) – Hazard is a true world star, and although Chelsea have lacked in performances this season, he has been the ever-present powerhouse in that squad, giving 100% every game. His creativeness, speed and agility are unmatched, and he has thrived at international level for his country under the freedom that coach Roberto Martinez has given him. The one potentially doubtful element of his game is his ability as captain to unify this group of individuals into a cohesive and consistent team, which he will need to do if he is to lift the trophy this summer.
- Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United) – Lukaku was a regular scorer and consistent performer for his country up front during the qualifying campaign, a stark contrast to his struggles domestically with Manchester United. While not the most energetic or creative of strikers, if Lukaku can get the correct service from Hazard and De Bruyne in Russia, he can be devastating to the opposition. His strength will also be an asset to Martinez if Belgium find that they are struggling in midfield, as he will enable them to play the long ball game.
Roberto Martinez – A surprise appointment in August 2016 as he had no prior international managerial experience, Martinez has done well with this Belgian side, even if some of his decisions have been controversial. With an extensive knowledge of the Premier League, which is home to the majority of the Belgian squad, Martinez knows his players very well, which gives him the advantage of being able to mix up the tactical game plan when required.