The 2017-18 club season is behind us now, and all eyes have moved to the World Cup this summer. Russia will host the world’s biggest sporting event, and before heading there many countries will be finalizing their 23-man rosters. One of the more enigmatic teams to look at is the Belgium National Team. On paper, they have one of the more talented squads heading to Russia. However, their lack of success in recent tournaments leaves questions as to just how far this team can go. Former Premier League manager Roberto Martinez is currently charged with getting the most out of this talented group on the international stage.
Belgium National Team: Time for a Breakthrough?
The term Golden Generation can get thrown around too often in football circles. If a country has a few good players in the same age range, all of the sudden they are pegged as a golden generation for that nation. The Belgium National Team is currently playing under this moniker. They will have some of Europe’s best club players suiting up for them once again this summer. So far for this golden generation, the results have been mixed.
At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the Belgian squad made it to quarterfinals for only the second time in their history. It was their first time qualifying for the World Cup since 2002. While their results seemed positive in respect to the country’s history in major tournaments, the product on the field was slightly underwhelming. For example, Manchester City star Kevin de Bruyne had a goal and two assists. He was the only Belgian to rank in the top 30 players in performance rating.
In 2016, the Belgium National Team reached the quarterfinals of the European Championships. A loss to underdog Wales would leave fans and pundits once again scratching their heads and wanting more from this collection of players. The Belgians have cruised through qualifying for each of the last three major tournaments. This includes topping their group once again on the road to Russia. Now it is up to Martinez and this group of players to finally put it all together at a major tournament. His squad scored a record 43 goals in the qualifying rounds.
One of the reasons this could be the year the Belgium National Team finally leaves an indelible mark on a major tournament is club form. A handful of the Belgian internationals have had brilliant seasons for their club teams. De Bruyne was the main playmaker for a record-setting Man City team. Players like Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Jan Vertonghen and Dries Mertens had standout seasons for their teams as well. If these players can carry their club form over to the summer, this team could make a lot of noise.
Belgium National Team: Players to Watch
Eden Hazard – Forward – Chelsea
The former Premier League Player of the Year has yet to break out at a major tournament for his country. He has shown his brilliance for his club quite often over the past few seasons, but international glory still awaits. His speed, ball control and finishing ability make him a threat whenever the ball is at his feet. He hasn’t yet found the same freedom he has with Chelsea when playing for his country. His ability to run at defenders and create scoring chances or draw fouls is what makes him most dangerous. Eden Hazard is a player whose skill puts him in a very elite category. However, if he wants to be talked about among the truly top players in the world, he needs to have a big performance at the World Cup.
Moussa Dembele – Midfield – Tottenham
Moussa Dembele has been immense in the middle of the pitch for his club all season. He had a stretch after the turn of the year where he was playing as well as any holding midfielder in Europe. The Tottenham man has a unique blend of power and grace when sliding past defenders. His numbers may not jump off the page in terms of goals and assists, but his impact cannot be overstated. His relentless effort and tackling, along with his ability to glide past defenders, makes him crucial to a successful midfield. Dembele will be a key component doing the dirty work that allows Hazard and De Bruyne the freedom to create.
Dries Mertens – Forward – Napoli
The speedy attacker scored 18 goals this season for Napoli. He has the pace and the skill to be a threat at on the counter or during build-up play. His shifty, speed driven style is a perfect complement to the physical presence of Lukaku. Dries Mertens is not often one of the first names brought up when talking about the Belgium National Team, but he always produces for his country. He had five goals and seven assists in nine appearances during qualifying.
For the World to See
On paper, Belgium has everything it needs to go deep into the knockout stages of the World Cup this summer. Established goal scorers, creative geniuses, midfield muscle and elite defenders litter the roster. Roberto Martinez will have plenty of talent at his disposal in Russia. His task will be maximizing this talent, and finding ways to utilize their varying skill sets.
The Belgium National Team is in Group G, with England, Panama and Tunisia. They are favourites to top their group, and should have good familiarity with their toughest challenger in England. Martinez is a former manager in the English top flight, and a good portion of the squad plies their trade there. With most of their best player reaching the prime of their careers, this golden generation of Belgians need to put it all together and finally contend with powerhouses like Germany, Spain, Argentina and Brazil in a major tournament.
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