Before becoming a Sports Journalist for Free Super Tips, Aaron spent three years studying Sports Journalism at the University of Sunderland while taking in the Black Cats' 'glory years' under Martin O'Neill. Now back in Northern Ireland he turns niche stats into predictions for FST, while he's one of the few people on this island who is equally comfortable at Windsor Park and the Aviva.
One of the most interesting groups at the World Cup sees Belgium battling England for top spot. Just how are the Red Devils shaping up as they prepare to swing in to action in Group G? They have wrapped up all of their warm-up friendlies, so we now have a much better idea of the condition they are in.
Belgium have seen their fair share of drama before even jetting off to the World Cup. Controversial squad picks, injury blows and dislike of Roberto Martinez have cast a shadow over their preparations. However, how has that affected them across their pre-tournament friendlies?
We’re looking over Belgium’s friendly results to see what we can find out ahead of their opening meeting with Panama. Could this finally be the year when Belgium’s talent delivers success; or will they fail to rise to the occasion yet again?
Belgium 0-0 Portugal – 2nd June
Line up (3-4-2-1): Courtois; Alderweireld, Kompany, Vertonghen; Meunier, De Bruyne, Dembele, Carrasco; Mertens, Hazard; Lukaku
The Belgians kicked off their warm up matches with a draw in Brussels. The clash with Portugal is the closest the Red Devils have come to a real test against a top side since their Euro 2016 group. This was a game where the European champions looked set up to defend deep and keep things tight. The Selecao were using the match as a warm up for their opener with Spain. However, it’s much harder to see what this game was worth to the Red Devils.
Roberto Martinez had been called out on his tactics by Kevin De Bruyne, and this game went some way to proving him right. The Man City man should know a good deal about keeping the ball by now, and he said Belgium were struggling in that department against a strong midfield. That was proven to be the case here, as even a mixed side like Portugal were able to dominate the ball. They had the majority of the possession, something which the Red Devils’ boss needs to quickly address. It’s not a failing that they’ll get away with in the latter stages of the World Cup.
Belgium 3-0 Egypt – 6th June
Line up (3-4-2-1): Courtois; Alderweireld, Ciman, Vertonghen; Meunier, De Bruyne, Witsel, Carrasco; Mertens, Hazard; Lukaku
Belgium played their big test, and then they turned their focus on warming up for their opening two World Cup clashes. They hosted Egypt four days after their draw with the Portuguese. However, their fortunes were much better this time around, and they cruised to a win over a Mo Salah-less Egypt. It’s not exactly a landmark win, but they did manage to do it without Vincent Kompany. He was one of just two players to drop out between the Portugal clash and this one. Laurent Ciman stepped in, while Axel Witsel took a central midfield spot.
Belgium won thanks to goals from three Premier League stars, as Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Marouane Felliani hit the target. There was little competition for the Red Devils in this clash in Brussels. It was a warm up for the meeting with Tunisia, but on this evidence the Belgians have little to worry about. Their defence adapted well to the loss of the Man City captain, while Egypt failed to cause problems for their midfield, as Portugal did.
Belgium 4-1 Costa Rica – 11th June
Line up (3-4-2-1): Courtois; Alderweireld, Boyata, Vertonghen; Meunier, De Bruyne, Witsel, Carrasco; Mertens, Hazard; Lukaku
Yet again, Martinez refused to make big changes ahead of their friendly. He kept 10 of the 11 who started the win over Egypt. The only change was at the heart of defence. Ciman was left on the standby list, with Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen worried about their fitness yet again. Dedryk Boyata was the man to step in, and he had few problems as they cruised to a 4-1 win over Costa Rica. While the Red Devils did fall behind to a Bryan Ruiz strike, they showed little concern as they saw off the central American side.
Dries Mertens, a brace from Lukaku and Michy Batshuayi helped them to that impressive win, which came days after Engand beat Costa Rica 2-0. Both Panama and Tunisia have narrowly beaten Costa Rica in recent months, so comparing their results Belgium were by far the most comfortable. That was helped by a third game in this formation with essentially the same side. Regardless of what there is to say about Martinez and his appointment, he has made a decision and stuck by it. But just how will that decision fare for him once the tournament gets under way?
How Prepared Are They for Their Opener?
Belgium will stick with their standard 3-4-2-1 system for the group games, and they have the perfect way to get up and running in Russia. Start with the minnows first off, and post a win without much fuss. Tunisia are up next, before stepping up again to take on England in their last clash. It gives Belgium the chance to grow in to the World Cup, and if they can keep improving in to the last 16, then they’re going to be real contenders to lift the famous trophy.
It’s hard to see how Belgium could have made themselves any more prepared for their opening game. Their only worries are injuries picked up in the friendlies, with Kompany still a doubt. Hazard limped off against Costa Rica, but he’s fine to return to the side against Panama.
Martinez just needs to settle on either Mousa Dembele or Axel Witsel. Given that the latter has started the last two, while Dembele’s agent has been busy offering him around Italy and China, the choice seems clear. Now the former Everton boss just needs the all clear on the injury front, and his full strength side will take on the minnows of Panama in Sochi.
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