Bandied about as the dark horses and rank outsiders for the competition, Belgium’s squad has an embarrassing wealth of riches. As a ‘golden generation’ of talent breaks through and gains experience, expectations of the Belgium side should be raised. Manager, Marc Wilmots, has however chosen to reiterate that the Red Devils still remain outsiders. He said, “Just because people are crazy it does not mean I am as well. There are teams like Spain, Germany and France that have a lot of quality. We are among the outsiders like Italy and Portugal.” Pooled in group E with Italy, Republic of Ireland, and Sweden, qualification into the knockout stages should be the minimum expectation.
Marc Wilmots’ side were knocked out at the quarter final stage at the Brazil world cup by eventual finalists, Argentina. They have since gone on to top their qualifying group, which included a Wales side making waves under manager Chris Coleman, and a Bosnia side spearheaded by Edin Džeko. Preparatory friendlies in November 2015 were disrupted by the tragic terror attacks in Brussels. Despite qualifying Belgium for the finals, manager Marc Wilmots was also subject to criticism for his team’s performance levels. He fired back saying, “Everyone is free to have an opinion and express it, but I never have doubts. We are on my path, the results argue for me and I will die with my ideas. Yes, I will leave after the Euros, but on vacation! The question of the future does not interest me, I am under contract until 2018 and I am already preparing the campaign for Russia.”
The notable absentee from this area of the pitch is Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany who picked up a muscle injury when facing Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final. However, the form of spurs duo, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, with undoubtedly help the Red Devils deal with the absence of their captain. The two defenders dove-tailed brilliantly as Spurs made an assault for the Premier League title. Their positional flexibility will more than likely see them pushed out to play as fullbacks with the squad lacking in any natural players in that area, with Wilmots already underlining his intention to use them as such. The Belgium manager also stated that Denayer is likely to be the natural replacement for Vincent Kompany. Expect Zenit defender, Nicolas Lombaerts, to start alongside the youngster. Thibaut Courtois is seen to be the number 1 despite enduring a difficult season with club side Chelsea.
Playing with a 4-2-3-1, there is essentially space for 3 central players and 2 wide men in the team. WIlmots has a wealth number of options capable of playing in the double pivot. Axel Witsel is a common starter for the Red Devils. His combative nature is able to provide a foil for attacking players to go and create. Then again the same can be said for Radja Nainggolan, Moussa Dembele, and Marouane Fellaini who are all capable to fulfilling the role. Kevin De Bruyne will undoubtedly be the creative hub in the number 10 role. A seamless transition from Wolfsburg to Manchester City has left pundits and fans waxing lyrical over the attacking midfielder’s performances. 9 goals in 34 international appearances also suggests that he can be relied upon to relieve the goal scoring burden. The wide left berth will be occupied by Eden Hazard. Despite a lack of form for the majority of the 2015/2016 season, Wilmots has confirmed he will wear the captain’s armband in France. Hazard said, “I am happy, because I always try to be a leader on the pitch. I am not much of a talker, but it’s clear whenever I am on the field, I try to take the lead, with or without the armband. It’s up to offensive players like me to make a difference, and I am looking to play this role sincerely.” On the opposite flank Belgium have options in Yannick Carrasco, who Wilmots talked up, and Dries Mertens who featured significantly for Belgium in the 2014 World Cup.
Michy Batshuayi, Christian Benteke, Romelu Lukaku, and Divock Origi have all been included in the provisional 24-man squad. Marc Wilmots has a tendency to pick his centre-forward depending on the opposition so it’s a hard positon to nail down a certain starter in this position. Origi and Batshuayi are certainty different propositions to Benteke and Lukaku so Wilmots has the option of changing up. One thing highlighted by Belgium’s qualifying campaign is that the strikers do need to add more goals, especially if the side want to mix it up with the favourites for EURO 2016.