There are a lot of teams that I love in this upcoming World Cup--players too, but I'll save that for another day. Today, we're going to talk about Belgium.
There isn't a team that I like as much as Belgium in this World Cup. I hate their manager, Roberto Martinez. Here he is dancing at a Jason Derulo concert.
But after their manager? Yooooo. You can't find a weak spot in this team. And there's good depth in most areas, too. Granted, World Cup rosters aren't final so I'm projecting to the optimal case for Belgium as they should be a must-watch on your World Cup Travel guide by BonusCodeBets.co.uk.
Let's start in the net. Thibaut Courtois is in the top three discussion for best goalkeeper in the world right now. He plays for Chelsea, who haven't had the greatest season in recent memory, but it would have been way worse for them without him. What always surprises me about Courtois is how well he gets down for low shots. That's always a challenge for taller goalies--Courtois is 6'6", which makes aerial saves much easier. He has a good low stance that he shifts into earlier than a lot of goalies. He is consistently among the best keepers in terms of controlling rebounds. It's important for goalies to make saves but, similar to hockey, goalies don't want the rebound to be left in a dangerous area. Rarely do you see Courtois leave a save in a dangerous area. He catches a lot of shots and if he can't catch a shot, he usually pushes it to the side or behind so he has a chance to reset before facing another shot.
Goalie is the thinnest depth area, but it's also the position that requires the least depth. Courtois should start every game unless he's rested in the last group stage game. Belgium's second choice keeper, Simon Mignolet, does not inspire the same confidence.
Belgium's defense is probably the strongest area of their team, starting with their center backs. Thomas Vermaelen has been plagued by injury this year but if he's healthy, he's going to start. After that, you have some options because Belgium has so many center backs. You have Toby Alderweireld, who is working his way back from injury as well, but he might play left back as well. You have Jan Vertonghen too, and he can also play left back. And, after them, you have Vincent Kompany, the captain of the best team in the Premier League, Manchester City. Right back will be Thomas Meunier, who plays at that spot for Paris-Saint Germain. Left back is still sort of up in the air so we'll see what they do based on injuries. But the defensive qualities that Belgium's team will bring to the World Cup will best all other teams, except possibly Germany.
The quality continues in Belgium's midfield. You have to start with Kevin de Bruyne, who's in the top two for the PFA Premier League Player of the Year running. You know how Manchester City has scored roughly 7000 goals this season? That's due in large part to KDB. He plays in an attacking midfield role and he's the one setting up goals and dishing out hockey assists on goals.
On his best day, he'll ruin you by himself. But Belgium has almost equal talents through the rest of their midfield! You have to pencil in previous PFA Player of the Year winner Eden Hazard on one of the wings. A rapid goal scorer off the wing, he'll be one of De Bruyne's main targets. Further behind them both will be Radja Nainggolan, Roma's midfield maestro, who will assume more defensive duties. There's more quality depth with players like Moussa Dembele and Marouane Fellaini.
Where things get a little interesting is in attack. Belgium's first option is as good as any with Romelu Lukaku. He's a big, strong, prototypical striker who is big enough to receive long passes from defenders and distribute to the swarm of attacking midfielders and wingers behind him. He averages one goal in every other game for the national team.
But the quality after Lukaku drops off significantly. What worries me most about this Belgium team is what their plan becomes if another team marks Lukaku out of a game. We've seen it happen in the Premier League. When facing Manchester United, other teams single out Lukaku and, if he's isolated from midfield support, he can be marked out of games completely. If that happens at the World Cup, you have to rely on Roberto Martinez to come up with a good alternative.
If you can, please try to watch Belgium play. They're great fun and, for a country less populous than the state of Ohio, they're over-performing at the international level. Their best group game is against England on June 28th, which should determine who comes out on top of their group with Panama and Tunisia.
"Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very
disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more
important than that."
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