Just how good are Belgium looking for the World Cup?

Steven McBain Roar Guru

By Steven McBain, Steven McBain is a Roar Guru

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    Belgium right now are the flavour of the moment. Their players are peppering the top leagues in Europe – mainly the Premier League.

    And they have qualified for the World Cup at a canter in a group where they were actually seeded second behind Croatia. Many are tipping them for big things in Brazil next year, but we ask: are they really as good as the hype suggests?

    Belgium, it should be remembered, has a proud footballing history despite a poor recent history.

    I grew up knowing players such as Jan Ceulemans, Franky Van der Elst, Eric Gerets, Preud’homme, and then later the wonderfully talented Enzo Scifo, Phillipe Albert and Luc Nilis.

    Belgium pushed all the way during England’s run to the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup, and the likes of Anderlecht have a proud European club history.

    After a lengthy hiatus, Belgium are back with a team that looks hugely exciting and full of talent. We have been here with other nations, and talks of a ‘golden generation’ can often be hugely overdone – especially if you follow England (which I don’t).

    Recent golden generations that have succeeded are France (WC ’98 and EC ’00) and Spain (EC ’08, WC ’10, EC ’12). They are big shoes for the Belgians to fill, especially as they seem to be coming from much further back than either of those nations.

    While many of the players look to be of genuine quality, they do lack any tournament experience.

    And, like all the European teams, they face the daunting prospect (more daunting, one would guess, for the northern ones) of competing in South America where the Europeans have never won.

    Marc Wilmots gives experience and know-how as coach, but just how good are their players?

    The goalkeeping position is currently held by Thibaut Courtois, yet another Chelsea player out on loan and excelling at Atletico Madrid. Courtois was easily the best goalkeeper in Spain last season and offers security in that position.

    Simon Mignolet provides back-up and good competition for a position where Belgium look well equipped.

    The defence is possibly the area where there may be a weakness for the Belgians.

    Van Buyten is now 35 years old, while Vermaelen has struggled at times for Arsenal after what looked a promising start to his career there.

    Vertonghen has been solid for Spurs but he is far from the quickest and as yet, Toby Alderweireld is yet to play a game for his new club Atletico Madrid.

    Vincent Kompany remains a rock at the heart of their defence however, and his fitness will be a key factor for them at the World Cup.

    As with many uncompromising defenders, injuries are starting to take their toll and he has already missed a lot of football for his club this season.

    Moving further forward, you begin to realise what all the hype is about.

    Axel Witsel was hugely coveted by many clubs before ultimately plumping for the money on offer at Zenit. That choice, however, should not detract from his obvious quality.

    Much has been written about Marouane Fellaini after his high profile move to Man U.

    While he has enjoyed an indifferent start, playing in the CL for the Reds will undoubtedly help him develop further. He remains a physically imposing presence in midfield, if lacking a little mobility.

    Both Steven Defour and Mousa Dembele serve up further cultured offerings in the centre of the park, meaning that Belgium have a plethora of midfield options. It is further forward yet, however, where people are starting to get really excited.

    Eden Hazard’s protracted courtship by several clubs the previous summer ended when he finally plumped for Chelsea.

    While not yet the finished article, Hazard is clearly a huge talent who looks to be capable of playing and influencing games in much the same way that Luis Figo once did. Belgium will be looking for big things for him in Brazil.

    His Chelsea teammate Kevin De Bruyne is far rawer than Hazard, despite being the same age. De Bruyne now needs to translate that potential into a more finished article.

    Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke offers a potent striking option for Belgium alongside Chelsea’s on-loan striker Romelu Lukaku. Both strikers are quick, strong, have a good eye for goal and will be a handful for any defenders this Summer.

    The likes of Everton’s Kevin Mirallas and Spurs Nacer Chadli again show the depth of talent that Belgium currently have.

    It is an impressive squad.

    There seems little doubt that this is a Belgium team bulging with talent and potential, though it does look to be a team short of experience at the very sharpest end – especially in the forward positions.

    They will benefit from not carrying anything like the baggage that an England, an Italy or even hosts Brazil will carry into the tournament, nor will they suffer the same fear factor.

    Belgium currently occupy a top eight world ranking position, meaning that they could receive a favourable draw at the upcoming tournament.

    They should be well placed to qualify from their group – and as everyone knows anything can happen in the knockout stages.

    The very best, the likes of Germany, Spain, Brazil should however be too strong for the Belgians. But a quarter, or even a semi-final showing, could well be on the cards for a team that is going to continue to improve.

    While the World Cup could be a step too far for this fabulous generation of players, the Euros in France in 2016 could be a serious prospect for such a highly talented team.

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    The Crowd Says (57)

    • October 17th 2013 @ 6:02am
      my left foot said | October 17th 2013 @ 6:02am | ! Report

      They are cirtainly looking good, they had a reform like the FFA are trying to implement with their coaching courses and youth development about 10 years before us. So hopefully that’s an indication that reform and continuity done right, reaps rewards.

      • Roar Guru

        October 17th 2013 @ 1:18pm
        Steven McBain said | October 17th 2013 @ 1:18pm | ! Report

        Would agree with you there 100% MLF

    • October 17th 2013 @ 7:59am
      Aljay said | October 17th 2013 @ 7:59am | ! Report

      We definitely need to follow them as an example. 8-10 years ago they were dead in the water internationally and at club level. Unfortunately there is significant opposition to FFA reforms locally that mean we may take longer than 10 years to get things right.

    • Roar Guru

      October 17th 2013 @ 8:31am
      Mike said | October 17th 2013 @ 8:31am | ! Report

      I think Belgium are looking great right now. Some of their EPL players are absolutely sensational!

      I’m hopeful with the FFA’s reform, such as the NPL and the youth development. But I think the one thing that is lacking here is the full-blown football culture that exists in Europe. Australia is slowly becoming a football nation more and more, and it can happily co-exist with other codes. But as the football culture here gets bigger, we’ll see an increase in talent. Combine a passionate culture with the NYL, NPL and A-League, and you’ll get youngsters who are able to dream big and not have to worry if becoming a pro footballer is ‘realistic’. The more pathways available to them, the better. That’s why I really support the NPL, especially since there are incentives for clubs who produce A-League players. Australia might not ever become the next Belgium, but if our NT can easily and consistently stay in the top 25 rankings, then I’m happy with that! 🙂

      • Roar Guru

        October 17th 2013 @ 1:17pm
        Steven McBain said | October 17th 2013 @ 1:17pm | ! Report

        Having read a lot of the debate on the Roar about football in Australia I think there’s definitely many of the elements needed for a bright future. I know the recent friendly results have been dire but these phases can happen and if you look at the overall level of interest in the game, if some hard work is done on the coaching and administration side I’m sure Australia can establish itself at the higher end of the game. Certainly feels like the desire for it is there. Cheers for reading the article.

    • October 17th 2013 @ 9:25am
      Adam said | October 17th 2013 @ 9:25am | ! Report

      Vertonghen only solid? I suggest you watch a few more Tottenham matches, he is an outstanding talent

      • Roar Guru

        October 17th 2013 @ 1:05pm
        Steven McBain said | October 17th 2013 @ 1:05pm | ! Report

        Adam hi and thanks for taking the time to read the article. It was written in the context of are Belgium good enough to win the World Cup? My assessment of the squad generally worked on the premise that there is a huge amount of attacking talent and aside from the goalkeeper, I think if they do have a (slight) weakness it could be in defence as well as an overall lack of tournament experience.

        I would agree with you that Vertonghen is a very good Premiership player but in the context of the very very sharp end of a WC when you’re defending against possibly the Neymars, the Messis and Iniestas of this world I think his lack of pace might leave him a touch short against that kind movement.

        He’s definitely a good player though and won’t be the only defender who struggles against those kind of guys………….

        • November 21st 2013 @ 6:56pm
          Blondo said | November 21st 2013 @ 6:56pm | ! Report

          Toby Alderweireld has the same background as Vermaelen & Vertonghen … moved from GBA academy to Ajax, was a key player in each of their titles and earned himself a transfer to a bigger club (has started to settle in at A.Madrid yet isn’t a regular starter). Still he’s the weakest link in the Belgian back four unless Cavanda or Meunier have an impressive season. Vermaelen slowly is returning to form but in the meantime Lombaerts has worked out well (key player, winning an European and domestic title at Zenit). I’m interested in seeing their defensive solidity return that stood up well in competitive matches … during the friendly in March 2014 I’ll be looking for indications as the experimental phase is over. The wingers seem eager to track back and press (even Hazard is beginning to show impressive defensive stats since working with Mou) but the balance that versatile midfielders like Witsel, Dembele, Fellaini, Defour, Nainggolan, etc. bring is crucial. When they aren’t in top form, the whole squad feels it.

          PS Lukaku has been competing on a European stage since he was 16 … it’s a potent mix of youth and experience. Almost all of these young players show maturity beyond their age. Also the oldest guys are in the backline while the further you move up the pitch, the younger the players are … age is spread well in the squad and in the heat & humidity of Brazil they might suffer less fatigue and recuperate faster than older squads. Like Germany in 2010 they could outrun, outmuscle and outplay most other squads … getting to the quarter-finals would be a nice result when looking to the future.

          PPS Serbia was seeded second behind Croatia, not Belgium. Ivanovic, Subotic, Nastasic, Kolarov, Vidic, etc. couldn’t stop them from scoring 5x in 2 games. How many teams that were eliminated without even getting to the play-offs had to face a backline made up of this kind of steel?

    • October 17th 2013 @ 10:32am
      Brian said | October 17th 2013 @ 10:32am | ! Report

      The FIFA seedings are a joke. How can Belgium & Switzerland be seeded when they didn’t even make Euro 12 whilst Italy made the Final. You should not be seeded like Belgium because you avoided playing the best teams in 2010 and 2012.

      The team has depth and striking options so could go a long way, maybe even as far as the semis but I wouldn’t favour them against the big boys. As far as winning next year goes I’d say its a 4 horse race – Brazil, Argentina, Spain & Germany

      • Roar Guru

        October 17th 2013 @ 1:11pm
        Steven McBain said | October 17th 2013 @ 1:11pm | ! Report

        Brian, I have to say I never quite pretend to understand the FIFA seedings either. Some of the CONCACAF seedings over the years have looked bizarre to me also.

        I would tend to agree with you on those 4. I think if Brazil get some momentum they could be hard to stop and Argentina would love to win there and if Messi catches fire who knows.

        Spain, I just feel have maybe already peaked but they are an incredible side and are definitely one of the favourites no question. I’m not sure if Germany have really kicked on since the last WC like I expected but they’ll also be a handful.

        Outsiders I guess would be Italy who always seem to do alright and I guess the Dutch who again have been outstanding in qualifying. France would be bigger outsiders for me (if they get there), they’ve definitely improved of late. Probably from the 4 you mention though.

        Thanks for taking the time to read the article.

        • October 19th 2013 @ 2:33am
          ChrisUK said | October 19th 2013 @ 2:33am | ! Report

          There was an interesting article in the Guardian about FIFA’s rankings and seedings, and how playing friendlies actually knackers your ranking even if you win the games:


          • October 19th 2013 @ 3:20am
            dasilva said | October 19th 2013 @ 3:20am | ! Report

            FIFA seedings are a complete joke

            4 years ago the system was that it was a combination of FIFA rankings and performance in previous world cups.

            However after the “hand of frog” by Thierry Henry. FiFA freaked out and then decided to turn it into a pure FIFA ranking so that France to be replaced by Netherlands to be seeded.

            It was a knee jerk reactionary decision. Even though it turned out that Netherlands were finalist and France were embarrass in the group stages.

            The benefits of using previous performance in world cups is that it allows for consistent performance and pedigree world cup performers to be advantaged instead of just based on who does strongly over a short period of time.

      • Roar Guru

        October 17th 2013 @ 7:55pm
        Steven McBain said | October 17th 2013 @ 7:55pm | ! Report

        They’ve just announced the WC seedings. So in the 1st pot we have Switzerland, Belgium, Colombia and probably Uruguay. Hmmmm

    • Roar Guru

      October 17th 2013 @ 12:50pm
      HardcorePrawn said | October 17th 2013 @ 12:50pm | ! Report

      I’ve always had a soft spot for Belgium, having a little Flemish ancestry myself.
      It’s good to see them back at the World Cup as they were always such perennial qualifiers when I was growing up. I’m sure I can’t be the only one of a certain age to have fond memories of them playing in Spain and Mexico; now, if only Scotland can get themselves out of their current rut too…

      • Roar Guru

        October 17th 2013 @ 1:15pm
        Steven McBain said | October 17th 2013 @ 1:15pm | ! Report

        Oh mate, if only if only……… I agree with you about Belgium though, I remember them back then, they were always a good team to watch and later on I just loved Enzo Scifo, pure class.

        Listening to the Scottish press the last couple of days, we’re now nailed on to qualify for France ’16 because of the two Croatia games and Gordon Strachan is likely to be elected First Minister.

        We’ve improved under him for sure but the last game, Croatia had 9 players on yellow cards with a play off guaranteed, how hard does anyone think they were trying? I’d hope we’ve reached the bottom of the trough for the time being but it’s a long way back.

        24 teams at least for France next time meaning it’s very hard NOT to qualify. I’m sure we’ll try our best not to though………..

        • Roar Guru

          October 17th 2013 @ 1:47pm
          HardcorePrawn said | October 17th 2013 @ 1:47pm | ! Report

          I have to warn you Steven, that as an Englishman my only interest in seeing Scotland qualify is to relive my youth, when they were often the only British team to do so!

          I’d be quite happy to not relive the dark days when England would sit out tournaments though!

          • Roar Guru

            October 17th 2013 @ 4:18pm
            Steven McBain said | October 17th 2013 @ 4:18pm | ! Report

            Yep, I’d kill for 1990 and us losing to Costa Rica in the first game. At least it would mean we had got there……..

            • Roar Guru

              October 17th 2013 @ 4:34pm
              HardcorePrawn said | October 17th 2013 @ 4:34pm | ! Report

              Ha! Good point.

              As a Sunderland supporter I often have to remind myself that being anchored to the bottom of the Premier League is preferable to being anchored to the bottom of the second tier, as we were not so long ago!

              • October 17th 2013 @ 4:42pm
                Towser said | October 17th 2013 @ 4:42pm | ! Report

                “You shud bi ser lucki” As a Sheffield Wednesday supporter, were just anchored full stop.

              • Roar Guru

                October 17th 2013 @ 5:43pm
                Steven McBain said | October 17th 2013 @ 5:43pm | ! Report

                Tough season ahead mate, reckon you can turn the corner? I wrote an article on Poyet the other week as it goes, it’s down the list somewhere or other.

              • Roar Guru

                October 19th 2013 @ 12:40pm
                HardcorePrawn said | October 19th 2013 @ 12:40pm | ! Report

                I’m not so sure about Poyet, in replacing Di Canio with him the board seem to have just swapped like for like: flamboyant player, a bit controversial but always a fan favourite, successfully managed a lower league club but with no experience in the Premier League, a bit of disciplinarian…

                Had there not been the furore regarding Di Canio’s political allegiances I think he would have been given a few more months at the helm, at least until Christmas.

              • Roar Guru

                October 19th 2013 @ 12:51pm
                HardcorePrawn said | October 19th 2013 @ 12:51pm | ! Report

                Whoops! Just read your Poyet article McBain, and see that you’ve said exactly the same thing as I just did!

                Great minds think alike… 🙂

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