Belgium – Group H – World Cup profile

The term golden generation is usually lingering uneasily over at least one side every time a major tournament comes around.

Most notably it was slapped on the backs of Luís Figo, Rui Costa and company as Portugal attempted to win Euro 2004 on home soil.

At no point in the last decade, has a team fitted the tag so well. Enter Belgium.

The current crop of Diables Rouges consist of a startling array of Belgians who find themselves at the top of the European game. Unlike Portugal ten years ago though, there is enough youth about the current bunch to suggest their star is still on the rise.

There is a widespread belief, not just at home, but around Europe, that Belgium, playing on the biggest stage for the first time in 12 years, could do some serious damage.

A manageable looking group even sees them installed as fifth favourites with some bookmakers, ahead of the likes of France, England, Portugal, Italy and their Dutch neighbours.

Confirmed squad

Arguably this is the strongest squad Belgium have ever had.

Most of the key men have found their way to the bright lights of the English Premier League to become crucial figures at clubs in the top section of the table. The squad is youthful but does not lack experience and the coach has reasonable cover for virtually anyone in his first XI.

With such a glittering list of household names Belgium will certainly be without the element of surprise but their contingent will offer the coach versatility as well as quality.

Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois (Atlético Madrid) Simon Mignolet (Liverpool) Sammy Bossut (Zulte Waregem)

Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Atlético Madrid) Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal) Vincent Kompany (Manchester City) Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham) Daniel Van Buyten (Bayern Munich) Nicolas Lombaerts (Zenit) Anthony Vanden Borre (Anderlecht)  Laurent Ciman (Standard Liège)

Midfielders: Axel Witsel (Zenit) Kevin De Bruyne (Wolfsburg) Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United) Eden Hazard (Chelsea) Steven Defour (Porto) Mousa Dembélé (Tottenham) Adnan Januzaj (Manchester Utd)  Nacer Chadli (Tottenham)

Forwards: Romelu Lukaku (Everton) Dries Mertens (Napoli) Divock Origi (Lille) Kevin Mirallas (Everton)

Notable absentees

Belgium’s preparations have so far suffered only one blow but it was a big one.

Pacy battering ram forward Christian Benteke, of Aston Villa, will not be there. The young hit-man has a great goal-scoring record in England but will miss out due to an Achilles tear which ruined his season.

There are a host of younger players that will surely get a chance to star for Belgium in the future, but at the moment the European nation have established players and do not need to call on youth.

Coach profile

Marc WilmotsMarc Wilmots – A former attacking midfielder who was successful as a Belgium player, travelling to the World Cup four times.

His experience ranged from being an unused sub in 1990 to bagging three goals in 2002. His managerial career though, is limited to one ill-fated spell at his boyhood club Sint-Truiden. He found a path into his current role having first worked as assistant coach to Dick Advocaat and then Georges Leekens until taking over in 2012.

Not that long out of his playing days, Wilmots prefers to be very involved in the training sessions and his methods have proved fruitful so far as the Diables Rouges qualified in style for the tournament.

Recent friendly results have not been as convincing but ironically this may help the boss rather than put the pressure on him.

Due to their fine run and talented squad, Belgium fans’ expectations had risen to dramatic heights six months ago. Now hopes are more cautiously optimistic and Wilmots, who also dabbles in politics, will be fine with that.

Formation / tactics

The formation favoured by Wilmots is best described as a 4-1-2-3.

One of the first names on the team sheet will usually be Axel Witsel who has been playing in the Russian league since a big money move in 2012.

The deep-lying playmaker is an important component and may even be able to provide inside knowledge on some of the Russian opponents. Ahead of Witsel, two additional midfielders, one of which is likely to be Mousa Dembélé, will be expected to contribute heavily to both attacking and defensive phases.

The defence itself could be an area of concern. If there is one thing the Belgians are short of it is attacking full backs. Vertonghen and Alderweireld, naturally central defenders, have not always convinced.

Romelu Lukaku will spearhead the attack supported by Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne. Christian Benteke misses the tournament through injury so Kevin Mirallas will probably be the primary attacking substitute, assuming Lukaku is fit for Belgium’s first game.

Key player

Vincent KompanyVincent Kompany. Belgium’s captain and a truly imperious defender, Kompany has now bolstered his outstanding reputation with silverware.

The Manchester City man is a popular character, imposing physical presence and is a born leader.

At 28, he takes his country to the World Cup at the peak of his powers and will need to be right at the top of his game when the going gets tough.

If Belgium are to claim some of the bigger scalps, it will largely be because Kompany has successfully neutralised the opposition’s attacking threat.

One to watch

Adnan Januzaj – The teenager, due to his parentage, was eligible to play for several countries but he left it late before opting for Belgium and allowing Mark Wilmots to book his seat on the plane.

A highly gifted youngster that is one of the few beacons of light to emerge from Manchester United’s dismal campaign.

Blessed with trickery, an eye for goal and a footballing understanding beyond his years, he will be introduced form the bench to torture weary legs.

Prediction

Having landed in Group H alongside Algeria, Russia and South Korea, Marc Wilmots side are expected to top the group.

The exact strength of their opponents, particularly Russia and South Korea, is hard to gauge but Belgium must come first in order to avoid the Germans in round 2.

The more likely opponent will be whoever emerges intact from the group of death behind Germany.

By
I am a freelance football journalist from Northern Ireland living in Broome in Western Australia. I have worked for top media outlets such as FourFourTwo, goal.com, Soccerlens, Football Fancast and Here is the City. I am a lifelong and long-suffering Tottenham fan. Follow me on Twitter at @90MinsOnline
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