Belgium World Cup 2018 team guide: tactics, key players and expert predictions
World Cup 2018 World Cup 2018: Guardian Experts' Network Belgium World Cup 2018 team guide: tactics, key players and expert predictions
Thrilling in attack, vulnerable at the back, Belgium could go far but struggle against tactically superior sides
This article is part of the Guardianâs 2018 World Cup Expertsâ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organisations from the 32 countries who have qualified for Russia. theguardian.com is running previews from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament kicking off on 14 June.Thomas Meunier: Belgium's wing-back as happy in a gallery as playing Read more
Kevin De Bruyne usually says what he thinks. After the spectacular friendly with Mexico in November ended in a 3-3 draw, he hit out at Roberto MartÃnezâs tactics as Belgium couldnât replicate their usual dominance.
âMexico were tactically just better than us,â he said. âThey pushed our wing-backs back and we were swimming in midfield â" it was always seven against five.â
They were the words of a winner, but also a worried player, concerned that similar things might happen at the World Cup when Belgium face opponents with three midfielders in the centre. That is the achilles heel of this team, along with the defensive qualities of the wingâ'backs.
In particular, Yannick Carrasco, the left-back i n a 3-4-3 formation, is pretty vulnerable and tends to forget his defensive duties so itâs often up to the three at the back to provide cover â" Toby Alderweireld, Vincent Kompany and Jan Vertonghen â" with Thomas Vermaelen in reserve. Apart from Vertonghen, all of them have struggled with muscle problems this season and ensuring they stay fit and healthy will be vital for Belgiumâs chances.
MartÃnezâs side flew through the qualifiers with a record-breaking campaign that yielded 43 goals and nine wins. Yet they still they donât know how good or bad they are, as in two years the team have barely been tested.
Having excelled in a deeper role for Manchester City, De Bruyne has also been converted to a central midfielder by MartÃnez, having previously been used on the wing or as a No 10. The disciplined Axel Witsel, despite moving to China, is still usually preferred as his partner ahead of Mousa DembÃ©lÃ© or Radja Nainggolan, who d id not even make the squad.
âWe have seen a big evolution,â MartÃnez has explained. âWhen you have Kevin in a position where he can pick the long pass, it allows you to have five players in front who can be his targets. He is a modern playmaker and we get a lot of advantage from getting him on the ball. That system has worked for us very well in qualification.â
De Bruyneâs new role has certainly freed up Eden Hazard, with the captain scoring six goals and assisting five in a strong qualifying campaign. Romelu Lukaku was on fire, too, in the qualifiers, scoring 11. Heâs by far MartÃnezâs first choice up front, with Michy Batshuayi as a back-up. Unlike at Napoli, where heâs the deep striker, Dries Mertens gets a role on the right, a position where he is less effective than with his club.
Belgiumâs squad hasnât been tested since MartÃnez first game, a friendly against Spain where his team barely saw the ball and didnât know how to reac t. The Red Devils might score a lot of goals in Russia, but they might concede a lot too.
Probable starting XI
Which player is going to surprise everyone at the World Cup?
Thomas Meunier. Heâs basically commuting between the bench and the first XI at PSG but he was the revelation in the qualification campaign as a right wing-back. Against Gibraltar he scored three and provided three assists. In total he scored five goals during the qualifiers and assisted seven. He was the most productive player.World Cup 2018: complete guide to all 736 players Read more
Which player is likely to disappoint?
Moussa DembÃ©lÃ©. He has barely played under MartÃnez.
What is the realistic aim for Belgium at the World Cup?
The quarter-finals are a must, the semi-finals will be a bonus. Belgium expect to perform better than in Brazil, where they lost to Argentina in the quarters. If all goes well, Belgium will meet Brazil in the last eight. That will be a first meeting with one of the top six ranked countries since that friendly with Spain in September 2016. Do or die.
Kristof Terreur writes for HLN.
Follow him on Twitter here.Topics
- World Cup 2018
- World Cup 2018: Guardian Experts' Network
- World Cup
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