Belgium edged ever closer to qualification for the 2014 World Cup on Friday night after a professional performance saw Marc Wilmots’ side dispatch Serbia 2-1 at the King Baudouin Stadium. Goals from Kevin De Bruyne and Marouane Fellaini in either half saw the Belgians take a well deserved lead before an Aleksander Kolarov freekick set up a tense period of stoppage time.
The Red Devils managed to hold onto their lead until the final whistle and thus went three points clear at the top of Group A, ahead of Croatia who on the same night succumbed to a 1-0 defeat against Scotland.
The last time Belgium went to a major international tournament was back in 2002 when present coach, Wilmots, captained the side at the World Cup in South Korea and Japan. The current crop of players are now in pole position to qualify for Brazil 2014 and the array of talent at Wilmots’ disposal is close to rivalling that of the other superpowers in international football. Here is a look at some the most important and exciting players for the Red Devils.
Thibaut Courtois: Goalkeeper
21-year-old goalkeeper, Courtois, joined Chelsea from Racing Genk in 2010 but has spent the past two seasons on loan at Atletico Madrid where he replaced the outgoing David De Gea. Courtois has developed considerably during the past two seasons as the continued exposure to first team football has brought him on in leaps and bounds.
The young keeper made 37 appearances in La Liga for Atlético in the 2012/2013 campaign and kept an impressive 20 clean sheets. Compare this to Petr Cech who made 36 league appearances and managed 14 clean sheets for Chelsea, Courtois’ stats are more impressive. Although there is much speculation regarding the Belgian’s future at Chelsea, there is every chance he could stay at the London club and push Petr Cech for the number one spot next season.
Toby Alderweireld: Defender
Another player on the younger side of the squad is 24-year-old Toby Alderweireld, who plies his trade primarily as a centre back for Ajax in the Eredivisie. Alderweireld is more often than not deployed at right back for the national side and this is perhaps evident that the only position lacking in talent for the Belgians is the full back positions.
Having said that, Alderweireld’s performances for Ajax this season have been as solid as ever, playing 33 out of 34 matches in the Eredivisie scoring 2 goals, and on average Ajax have conceded less than a goal a game (0.91). This solidarity can only be a good thing for the national team, despite the fact Alderweireld has not featured in his strongest position.
Vncent Kompany: Defender
Manchester City and Belgium captain, Kompany is a born leader. Strong and commanding, he was at the heart of Manchester City’s title winning team of 2011/2012 and the majority of football fans will be familiar with the Centre Back.
Kompany has been restricted by injury this season and only made 26 appearances for City compared to 31 last year. However, his performances have been as strong as ever and at the age of 27 he is coming up to the peak years of his career.
Jan Vertonghen: Defender
One of the signings of the season, Vertonghen has been ever present for Tottenham this year at the heart of their defence. 34 league appearances and four goals show just how important he has been in Spurs push for Champions League football along with the likes of Gareth Bale.
Vertonghen is much more of a ball playing centre back than Kompany, he is happy with the ball at his feet and looks to play out from the back. Maintaining possession is an important factor in modern football and Vertonghen has all the credentials to do so both for club and country.
Marouane Fellaini: Midfielder
The big-haired central midfielder is an instantly recognisable character and has been ever-present for Everton since he signed for a club record fee of £15 million in 2008. Fellaini’s importance to Everton cannot be understated, even more so after the departure of Tim Cahill, Louis Saha and Yakubu in recent years. The big man managed 11 goals last year in 31 appearances for The Toffees as well as creating 40 goal-scoring chances overall.
Although, David Moyes had often preferred to deploy the midfielder in a more advanced position, often acting as an auxiliary centre forward, Fellaini’s favoured position is slightly deeper in midfield. With the national team, Fellaini is played in his favoured position where his defensive strengths are allowed to flourish alongside his attacking threat.
Moussa Dembele: Midfielder
The second of Tottenham’s Belgium contingent, Dembele had a tough task ahead of him at the start of this season replacing Luka Modric in centre midfield. He is a different type of player to Modric, preferring to run with the ball and beat a man before offloading the ball to a team mate. However, he was equally important as Spurs made the push for the Champions League in 2012/2013. Dembele created 55 scoring chances for his team and achieved an average pass accuracy of 91% this season, thus cementing his importance to Spurs.
Axel Witsel: Midfielder
Zenit St Petersburg paid an outlandish €40 million for Witsel in the summer of 2012. The centre midfielder is another technically adept player with an aggressive streak that makes him a valuable addition to any midfield. However, his aggressive nature has gotten him into trouble in the past and the most controversial example of this was back in 2009 whilst playing for Standard Liege. Witsel stamped on the ankle of Anderlecht player Marcin Wasilewski, inflicting a horrendous leg break which almost ended the Polish international’s career. However, as a footballer his ability is well documented and his performances have been monitored by clubs across Europe including PSG, Chelsea and Manchester United.
Kevin De Bruyne: Attacking Midfielder/Forward
The second of Chelsea’s Belgium contingent on this list, De Bruyne has been with the London club since signing from Genk in January 2012. Subsequently loaned back to Genk for the remainder of the 2011/2012 campaign, De Bruyne was again loaned out at the start of the 2012/2013 season, this time to Bundesliga side, Werder Bremen.
De Bruyne has excelled at Werder this season, despite a relatively poor campaign for the team overall. The attacking midfielder made 33 appearances for Werder, scoring 10 goals and creating a colossal 85 goal scoring chances. His creativity on the ball and an eye for a goal make him a valuable addition to the national team. Should he stay at Chelsea to fight for a place next season, it will be interesting to see how he performs in the Premier League and at 21-years-old, he has the world at his feet.
Eden Hazard: Attacking Midfielder/Forward
Fans of the Premier League will be very familiar with Eden Hazard after his first season for Chelsea and the young star cost Abramovich a cool €32 million. Hazard has been labelled as one of the hottest prospect in European football and he has made an instant impact in England. He made a total of 34 appearances in his debut season, scoring 9 goals and creating 65 scoring chances for his team.
Hazard has a fantastic ability with the ball at his feet as his low centre of gravity allows him to glide across the pitch, leaving the opposition defenders trailing in his wake. His exciting performances have been a highlight of Chelsea’s season and at the age of 21; Hazard will prosper with experience and become a true star for both club and country.
Kevin Mirallas: Attacking Midfielder/Forward
Although, Mirallas’ season has been interrupted by injury he has been one of Everton’s brightest players in the 2012/2013 campaign. His energy with the ball at his feet is second to none and he can take his team 50 plus yards up the field with a single dribbling run. Mirallas has been deployed in both the wide areas of the field and up front for The Toffees contributing 6 goals and creating 43 scoring chances for his team.
He is a dangerous player with pace and trickery in abundance and he fits the bill perfectly for the Belgian national team along with Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens, there is plenty of danger in attacking midfield and on the wings.
Christian Benteke: Striker
Benteke’s form in front of goal speaks for itself as the 22-year-old managed to score a total of 19 goals in 34 appearances for Villa in the Premier League. Considering Villa’s poor campaign, Benteke was the highlight of their season as his goals were of vital importance and effectively secured Villa’s status as a Premier League team for another season.
Benteke is big, strong and mobile with a fierce shot and an aerial ability which would cause major problems for most centre backs in world football. He has proven to be a deadly handful in the Premier League this year and this form has translated to the national team with two goals against the USA in May 2013.
Romelu Lukaku: Striker
The final player in Chelsea’s Belgian quartet is striker, Romelu Lukaku. Another big and strong front man, Lukaku has also enjoyed a successful season in the Premier League with Steve Clarke’s West Bromwich Albion. He managed to score 17 times in 35 league games for The Baggies in one for their best seasons in the top division.
Lukaku only turned 20-years-old in May and after such a promising season out on loan there is every chance that he will return to Chelsea and fight for a place in the starting line up next season. However, this will all depend on who will feature in Jose Mourinho’s plans going forward.
These are not the only players who Wilmots has to call on, the depth of talent in Belgium includes Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, Arsenal defender Thomas Vermaelen, Bayern Munich’s Daniel Van Buyten, Porto midfielder Steven Defour, FC Twente’s Nacer Chadli and PSV Eindhoven winger, Dries Mertens.
With such a mix of talent there is every chance that, if Belgium do qualify for the 2014 finals in Brazil then they will be a major threat to the more established nations. However, with so many young players, all with little to no senior international tournament experience, questions will be asked as to whether the squad can cope with the pressures of performing on such a stage. Whilst the Belgians may not have the experience to make the final of the World Cup they certainly have the potential to go well beyond the group stages in 2014 and challenge the world superpowers.
By Jamie Allen
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