World Cup 2018 Belgium team profile: How they qualified, star man, World Cup record, fixtures
Belgium come into the World Cup ranked the third best team in the world but there remain doubts as to whether they can fulfil their outstanding potential.
- Honours: Olympics gold, 1920
- FIFA Ranking: 3rd
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
Nine wins and a draw saw them qualify with two games to spare, some nine points ahead of second-placed Greece. However, it was not all plain sailing for the Red Devils, with Romelu Lukaku rescuing a draw against Greece with a last-minute strike in a 1-1 draw at home while Bosnia and Herzegovina could – and probably should – have taken at least a point from their encounter in October 2017, when an 84th-minute Yannick Carrasco strike secured Roberto Martinez’s men a 4-3 win.
However, an unbeaten qualifying campaign cannot be sniffed at.
STAR MAN - Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City)
Eden Hazard may very well be captain but it is Kevin de Bruyne who sets the tone for Belgium. Now 26, this is De Bruyne’s time, and, by extension, Belgium’s. The Manchester City man is the standard bearer for The Red Devils’ Golden Generation; that rare talent who can bend games to their will by sheer force of talent. If Belgium are to fulfil their potential, then they will have De Bruyne, not just a creator but also a goalscorer, to thank.
NEXT BIG THING - Youri Tielemans (Monaco)
Tielemans, 21, may well be coming off a rough first season at Monaco in Ligue 1, but remains a talent of some repute. A unique, box-to-box playmaker, who remains in favour with boss Roberto Martinez, and could provide incision from the bench should the Red Devils need it.
THE COACH - Roberto Martinez
He won the FA Cup, against all the odds, when Wigan shocked Manchester City back in 2013 but also presided over their relegation that same year. On balance, he emerged from the DW Stadium with his reputation enhanced and was appointed Everton boss for the 2013/14 season. He started superbly, leading the Toffees to a record Premier League points haul – and fifth place - in his first season in charge, before tailing off badly and finishing 11th in 2014/15. Everton’s regression continued the following season and the Spaniard was dismissed with the Toffees in disarray, sat in 14th after 37 games of the 2015/16 season.
WORLD CUP HISTORY
A mixed bag.
The Red Devils made seven appearances at the World Cup before really making an impact - that came at Mexico in 1986, where they fell to a Diego Maradona-inspired Argentina at the semi-final stage.
Another fallow period followed, reaching the last-16 stage twice over four appearances between 1990 and 2002, before failing to qualify for Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010.
Those failures ushered in a complete overhaul of their coaching pyramid. Armed with a cohort of technically adroit players, Marc Wilmots’ Red Devils coasted to Brazil 2014 but once again came unstuck against Argentina, this time inspired by another era-defining player, Lionel Messi.
REASONS FOR OPTIMISM
It has to be their time. A cursory glance at the Belgian World Cup squad shows a Golden Generation in their prime, with little in the way of emerging talent below the current pool. Belgium’s time is now.
They have the talent – and crucially – the balance to go deep in the tournament. Their starting XI matches up favourably to any in the tournament, even if they are not blessed in the full-back department.
Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku offer Martinez arguably the most multi-faceted attack in world football. Defenders beware.
- 18th June – Panama
- 23rd June – Tunisia
- 28th June – England