Belgium were among the few sides to come out of the World Cup with real credit for their displays. That was largely deserved, as they left after finishing third, scoring more goals than anyone at the tournament and securing their best ever finish at a World Cup. They will harbour regrets about not going all the way, but their focus now must turn to Euro 2020.
In the days after their World Cup campaign ended, we looked at what the Red Devils faced next. They have a brilliant squad, a great chance of winning the Euros and talent which can take them to glory in Qatar potentially. However, there are signs of concern ahead of their first post-World Cup friendly.
Nations League Push
Belgium are fresh from a strong World Cup, but next up for them has to be a trophy. While the biggest prize in the game just passed them by, Belgium have a chance to at least win something this season. They kick off their UEFA Nations League campaign this week, with the final of that tournament coming in June. Could they be the first side to lift the trophy?
It would be a massive boost to Martinez if he could follow up their strong summer with a trophy 11 months later. He clearly sees that, given that he’s gone with a really strong squad for their opening Nations League clash. With Iceland and Switzerland to face in their three-team pool this Autumn, it would be a huge shock if the Belgians weren’t heading to the Final Four Stage as group winners.
Martinez has only really been held back here by the absence of the injured Kevin De Bruyne. However, Belgium still have a hugely talented team to call upon, and they should make a strong start to this new competition.
Also See: Our Guide to the UEFA Nations League
Case for the Defence
When we looked back on Belgium’s tournament, there were a few things which stood out. Aside from the deserved praise for Martinez and his side in Russia, we looked to their ambitions going forward from here. The Red Devils are aiming to win the Nations League and Euro 2020, but they do have a bit of a ticking timebomb holding them back: their defence.
Their ageing defence was an issue we picked out in the summer. Martinez had his faith in a three-man back line, which included Premier League stars Toby Alderweireld, Vincent Kompany and Jan Vertonghen. Those are some impressive names to pair together, offering technical skill, solidity and experience. However, it’s the experience which is the problem now.
Alderweireld will be 31 come the Euros, which should be the last gasp of his prime years. However, he’ll also be the youngest of the three. Vertonghen will be 33 at the Euros, while Kompany will be 34. Suddenly, those three together look shaky. That’s not the kind of defence you’d expect to thrive, especially in a Belgium side which likes to attack and leaves spaces which need to be covered.
The rest of the defence doesn’t make things better. Those three were supported by Thomas Vermaelen, who will also be 34 at the next Euros. He and Kompany have had injury hit careers, so their last years are going to be a real struggle, especially if they continue international football. The pair were doubts for Russia, and they turned to LA FC’s Laurent Ciman, 33, as the back-up on reserve back in June. Overall, there’s very little cover for Martinez to consider.
What Have Belgium Done?
We pointed out these defensive problems with an eye on Euro 2020. Of course, the Nations League is the first step towards that tournament, with the qualifiers to follow in 2019. This seems like the perfect time to make changes, but Belgium have done nothing. While they deserve credit for naming a close to full-strength squad, they’ve not made major changes either.
They have added to their selection here, taking 27 players in this group, which included some youthful call-ups. However, only one of them was a defender, and that is right wing-back Timothy Castagne. While that does offer a new option defensively, the man who currently holds than position is 26-year-old Thomas Meunier. Meanwhile, Yannick Carrasco is set to be first choice on the left.
The issue for Belgium isn’t a lack of willingness to look elsewhere, it’s a lack of options. They have made one minor change, new Wolves signing Leander Dendoncker has been bunched in with the defence here. He can play central or holding midfield, and that’s where he was pigeon-holed during the World Cup. However, the 23-year-old seems like a potential successor in defence. Given that the only other rival is Dedryck Boyata, Dendoncker seems worth trying at the back.
However, the side is set up to play their 3-4-3 system, and no younger defenders were even brought with an eye on the Scotland game. There only seems to be a minor change in approach from Martinez, and that’s an administrative one. Meanwhile, their defensive problem continues to tick away.
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