No better opportunity exists for Belgium to get their hands on the coveted Jules Rimet Trophy than this summer in Russia. The so-called “Golden Generation” of Belgian stars failed to meet their nation’s expectations in Euro 2016, suffering a disappointing exit, but hopes are high for a better tournament at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Nine wins and one draw from their 10 qualifying matches made a statement of intent and manager Roberto Martinez must think the stars are aligning for a real tilt at winning the competition.
FIFA ranks Belgium as the fifth-best side in the world at present and they are therefore favorites to win Group G, which also contains England, Panama and Tunisia. Belgium’s most successful World Cup campaign came in 1986 when they finished fourth. If the seeded nations live up to expectations, Roberto Martinez’s men are likely to meet Brazil in the quarter finals. If they can get past the Canarinha, Belgium will be in great shape to eclipse that achievement in Mexico.
Without a doubt, the Belgian squad is packed full of match winners. While in the past, the weight of expectation was too much for the team to handle such as in Euro 2016, but Martinez has tried hard to keep his players’ feet firmly on the ground since qualification for this summer’s finals. Martinez and his assistant, French legend Thierry Henry, will be waiting with bated breath to make sure their key men steer clear of injuries between now and the end of the domestic season.
The one Belgian player on the lips of everyone this season has been midfield playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, who has lit up the Premier League for champions Manchester City, thanks to some audacious assists and goals. The 26-year-old is in the form of his life at present and his vision, awareness and weight of final pass could be crucial in providing striker Romelu Lukaku with the service he thrives on. Eden Hazard has been somewhat off the boil for Chelsea this season but also appears to be coming on strong as the domestic season climaxes. His low center of gravity and direct style is capable of terrorizing even the most organized of back lines.
Speaking of back lines, Belgium’s spine will hopefully, be underpinned by the return to fitness and form of Vincent Kompany. The Manchester City skipper has enjoyed an injury-free run in the side since the turn of the new year and if his knee troubles can remain behind, Kompany should be able to form an airtight central defensive pairing with Tottenham ace Toby Alderweireld. Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois is also the number one between the sticks and, despite an indifferent season for the Blues as a whole, Courtois remains the undisputed first choice for Chelsea and Belgium.
Martinez will want to be mindful of Belgium’s poor record against Group G rivals, England, in major tournaments. Belgium have yet to defeat England in either tournament games or competitive friendlies. Nevertheless, even if Belgium finishes runners-up in the group, they shouldn’t have a problem seeing off the winners of Group H, which is considered the weakest group in the competition (Poland, Senegal, Colombia and Japan). However, if they are forced down the path of the runner-up, they would be destined to face Germany in the quarterfinals. With Brazil and Germany both likely opponents in the last eight for Martinez’s men, it’s still a tall order for them to win the tournament, but at a price of between 10-12/1 to win the title, they must be a good value each-way.