The prodigies have turned into world-class players and the tag of dark horses into hot favourites. From the reassuring hand gloves to a rock-solid defence and from a cohesive midfield engine to sheer firepower, the football team of Belgium ticks all the boxes to be the contenders of FIFA World Cup which is less than a month away. Even the men working behind the scenes cannot be ignored.
There’s a popular argument that Belgium doesn’t have the pedigree required to triumph at the biggest football showdown and they are often compared to the South African team of cricket which has historically crashed out of cricket world cups despite being one of the favourites, if not heavy favourites.
But Belgium, however, has all the mettle to prove themselves at the highest stage. How? Let’s assess.
Manager: Roberto Martinez
The Spanish manager is a proven tactician who famously led minnows Wigan Athletic to an unlikely FA Cup final in 2013. He has been working with Belgium team since 2016 and the European giants have taken leaps and bounds under him.
Assistant Coach: Thierry Henry
The legendary Frenchman needs no introduction and given his attacking acumen, he will be inspirational in bringing the best out of the Belgian forwards for the international team. It will be an eye-watering sight when Henry-trained Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens and Romelu Lukaku will combine to lead Belgium’s mantle.
Goalkeeper: Thibaut Courtois
The towering goalkeeper has proved himself time and again with his ability to snuff out danger quickly. He was tremendous in the trophy-laden run of Atletico Madrid couple of years ago and has owned the position at Chelsea as well. Courtois’ exploits have got him linked to a possible move to Real Madrid.
Right Back: Thomas Meunier
The 26-year-old fullback deputises Dani Alves at the right back position at Paris Saint Germain but he is more than an able deputy. He is an accomplished crosser of the ball and never shies away from making marauding runs giving nightmare to opposition players.
Centre Back: Vincent Kompany
The indispensable leader who marshal troops like none. He was phenomenal in Manchester City’s first Premier League title win in 44 years and is still a world-class defender. His playing time took a hit early in the 2017-18 season due to persistence injuries but he has bounced back and looks stronger than ever.
Centre Back: Jan Vertonghen
Another proven defender in Premier League who, remarkably, played more games than anybody for Tottenham in the recently concluded season. His solid defending and consistency make him the perfect partner for Kompany.
Left Back: Toby Alderweireld
Another Tottenham star and crucial member of Belgium’s defence. The central defender has the ability to play across all the defensive positions and can do the job at left back. Without a doubt, he is one of the top 5 defenders in the English league and will be important in Belgium’s world cup bid.
Central Midfielder: Radja Nainggolan
The box-to-box Roma midfielder is an absolute powerhouse. His work rate, ability to see a pass and score goals is a constant menace for the opposition. The 30-year-old scored an estimable 6 goals and created another 11 for Roma this Serie A season.
Central Midfielder: Mousa Dembele
In a recently conducted interview, several Tottenham players were asked who is their favourite player in the squad and it was Dembele who stood out. The 30-year-old midfielder is a selfless footballer who works incredibly hard to retain the ball and excels at keeping possession of it. He boasts a pass completion percentage of over 90 and is a solid presence in the middle of the pitch.
Attacking Midfielder: Kevin De Bryune
The midfield maestro is one true footballing phenomenon. Be it pin-point passes, unreal through balls, curling crosses and rocket of shots; De Bruyne does everything with ease. He is the leading assist-maker for Manchester City from past three seasons and his massive contribution to City’s amazing title-winning run cannot be ignored.
Left Winger: Eden Hazard
The Chelsea winger is arguably the biggest talent that Belgium boasts of. He oozes confidence on the pitch like none and has the flair to do the unbelievable and shift results to his team’s favour. Hazard has been terrorising English clubs’ defences for more than half decade now and Belgium’s hopes heavily rely on him.
Right Winger: Dries Mertens
Mertens is ageing like a fine wine and Napoli is reaping the rewards with both hands. The 31-year-old attacker is a fantastic dribbler of the ball and his off the ball movement is equally impeccable. The Belgian has developed a knack for scoring goals, err, too many goals lately. During 2016-17 season, he scored 34 goals while in 2017-18, he netted 22 and created another 9.
Striker: Romelu Lukaku
After an explosive start to his Manchester United career, performances of the towering Belgian waned as he concluded the season with an underwhelming end. However, in his not-so-great season, Lukaku still managed to score 30 goals. He is a force to reckon with even on his off days and an unstoppable goal-scoring machine on his best.
Special mentions to Thomas Vermaelen, Axel Witsel, Yannick Carrasco and Michy Batshuayi.