With arguably the strongest squad in the tournament, Belgium are expected to contend for the title.
Belgium World Cup Fixtures, Squad, Group, Guide
Belgium qualified for the 2018 World Cup from a group where Bosnia-Herzegovina were their main rivals. They scored a record number of goals, 43, while conceding only six. Yet defensive concerns remain and injuries to key players could lead to disaster – just as they did in France in 2016.
Related: World Cup TV Schedule
Key Moments in Qualifying
Belgium convincingly beat their main rivals Bosnia 4-0 in Brussels.
Roberto Martinez omits Radja Nainggolan from his squad to meet Gibraltar and Greece, which causes a media frenzy.
Belgium beat Greece 2-1 in Athens and become the first European team to qualify for Russia.
Belgium win 4-3 in Sarajevo after trailing Bosnia at half-time. Three days later, Belgium score four against Cyprus to equal Germany’s record for goals scored in a qualifying round.
Belgium World Cup Group
Belgium World Cup Friendlies
Related: World Cup Friendlies
Belgium World Cup Fixtures
Related: World Cup Fixtures
Roberto Martinez, age 44, (13.07.73)
Appointed in August 2016 with a contract running to the end of 2018, he was something of a surprise choice as the Royal Belgian Football Association had wanted a coach with international experience. Although his continental involvement was limited to an Everton run in the Europa League, on the plus side he has extensive knowledge of the Premier League, which is home to half of the Belgian squad, and led Wigan Athletic to FA Cup success in 2013.
Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne are the top dogs, with Hazard captaining the side and receiving far more freedom under Martinez. But De Bruyne has rarely reproduced his club form and remains an international enigma.
Romelu Lukaku scored regularly throughout the campaign, with other useful goal tallies coming from Dries Mertens and Thomas Meunier. Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen are the essential linchpins of the defence in front of keeper Thibaut Courtois. Axel Witsel offers stability in front of a back thee.
Vincent Kompany hardly figured in the campaign, while Nainggolan was omitted from the squad for the final four qualifying fixtures.
Leander Dendoncker made his full debut in the home game against Estonia as part of a back three. Youri Tielemans started his first competitive international against Cyprus in October.
Related: World Cup Stadiums
Belgium World Cup Squad
Preliminary World Cup Squad –
Goalkeepers – Koen Castrels, Thibaut Courtois, Simon Mignolet
Belgium World Cup Injuries
With Romelu Lukaku and Michy Batshuayi probably going up front for Belgium, Christian Benteke may not feature, Regardless he picked up an injury during training which may keep him out for a bit of time.
The Unanswered Questions
What is the Plan B?
By switching to a 3-4-2-1 set-up, Roberto Martinez has shown an element of tactical flexibility that predecessor Marc Wilmots lacked. But while this covered the paucity of quality full-backs, it also revealed the lack of a back-up – which could be essential if Belgium find themselves being overrun in midfield against some of the tournament favourites.
Can Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen be relied upon in Russia?
The success of Martinez’s back three depends on the form and fitness of Kompany, or as back-up, Vermaelen. Other candidates, such as Laurent Ciman and Dedryck Boyota, are short of international quality.
Will Radja Nainggolan return?
Martinez has never had a smooth relationship with Nainggolan, who offers a physicality that’s lacking in Belgium’s midfield. After injury forced him out of recent friendlies against Japan and Mexico, Nainggolan has little time to convince Martinez that he is needed.
Will Kevin De Bruyne shine on the world stage?
De Bruyne has openly criticised Martinez’s tactics – which is probably a sign of his frustration at the fact that he has rarely looked happy on the international stage. He thrives on responsibility and it could be that this has been in short supply when he has worn a Belgium shirt.
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