World Cup Countdown The ones to watch for Belgium

Roberto Martinez is gearing up for his first major tournament as Belgium Manager after replacing widely unpopular Marc Wilmots in August 2016.

Belgium’s decision to appoint Martinez raised eyebrows at the time and he will have the chance to answer his critics this summer.

While Belgium are yet to really set the world alight under Martinez, they barely put a foot wrong in qualifying.

No European nation scored more goals en route to the 2018 World Cup than the Red Devils (43), who won nine of their 10 matches.

Belgium are unbeaten in their last 17 matches and managed to hold Euro 2016 winners Portugal to a 0-0 draw in their first World Cup warm-up game last weekend.

Martinez caused a stir by leaving popular Roma midfielder Radja Nainggolan out of his 23-man squad, forcing the 30-year-old into international retirement.

There are also concerns regarding the fitness of Vincent Kompany after the Manchester City defender suffered a groin injury against Portugal.

Kompany was still included in Belgium’s 23-man squad but it remains unclear how long he could be sidelined for and his absence would be a huge blow for Martinez.

Kompany will partner Tottenham duo Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen in defence should he prove his fitness in time and Belgium will then successfully be able to boast the best defence at the World Cup, on paper at least.

Belgium has an embarrassment of riches at their disposal, so much so that they can afford to leave players like of Mousa Dembele on the bench.

With a back three of Alderweireld, Vertonghen and Kompany guarding Thibaut Courtois, the hope is that Martinez will free the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard to perform at their destructive best.

 

Martinez is not renowned for being defensively orientated but it would be a real shock if Belgium are as poor at the back at the World Cup as some of his previous teams have been.

Romelu Lukaku may divide opinion among supporters, but he has scored 10 goals in his last seven internationals. With Dries Mertens set to accompany the Manchester United striker in attack, they should not be short of goals.

De Bruyne will occupy a deeper position for Belgium, as he has become accustomed to for City this season, so that should not inhibit his creative qualities after providing a Premier League high 16 assists last term.

Not only that, but the 26-year-old finished the season as the highest player (25+ apps) in the Premier League (7.80), weighing in with eight goals.

However, a main area of concern for Belgium will be at left wingback. Martinez has not selected a recognised player for that position and will instead deploy Yannick Carrasco there despite the fact he is offensively minded.

Nacer Chadli is the alternative option for Belgium, but that doesn’t inspire any confidence and it should be an area of the team where opponents look to exploit.

For all of Belgium’s world-class players, there are weak points in the squad that will be apparent with just one or two injuries to first-team players.

Nevertheless, this is Belgium’s golden generation and Martinez can have no excuse if he fails to navigate the Red Devils deep into the tournament.

 

Story: Gottlieb BAAKO

Writer’s Email: gottlieb.baako@todaygh.com

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