With arguably the strongest squad in the tournament, Belgium are expected to contend for the title.
Belgium World Cup Fixtures, Squad, Group, Guide
Belgium vs Panama (18th June)
The superstar team of Belgium face lowly Panama in a game everyone expects the Belgians to win. Match preview here.
Belgium Starting XI: 1 Thibaut Courtois, 2 Toby Alderweirald, 5 Jan Vertonghen, 6 Axel Witsel (22 Nacer Chadli 90), 7 Kevin De Bruyne, 9 Romelu Lukaku, 10 Eden Hazard, 11 Juan Carrasco (19 Mousa Dembele 74), 14 Dries Mertens (16 Thorgan Hazard 83), 15 Thomas Meunier, 20 Dedryck Boyata
Panama Starting XI: 1 Jaime Penedo, 2 Michael Murillo, 4 Fidel Escobar, 5 Roman Torres, 6 Gabriel Gomez, 7 Blas Perez (18 Luis Tejada 73), 8 Edgar Barcenas (9 Gabriel Torres 63), 11 Armando Cooper, 15 Erick Davis, 20 Anibal Godoy, 21 Jose Luis Rodriguez (10 Ismael Diaz 63)
Belgium 3 Panama 0
Belgium: Mertens 47, Lukaku 69, 75
Belgium eventually overran debutants Panama in their opening game thanks to an improved second-half performance in Sochi.
Belgium were lethargic for much of the first half, failing to press a well-organised, deep-lying Panamanian side. The breakthrough came through a moment of individual brilliance from Dries Mertens shortly after the break.
Panama heads did not drop after conceding and they had several chances before two Romelu Lukaku goals confirmed the Belgian victory.
Matter of fact
Romelu Lukaku became the first Belgian to score twice in a World Cup game since Marc Wilmots in 1998.
Romulu Lukaku received very little quality service throughout the match – with the exception of two passes: one from De Bruyne for his headed goal, the other from Hazard for his second, and Belgium’s third.
Possession (%): 61/39
Goal attempts: 15/6
Attempts on target: 7/4
Pass accuracy (%): 89/82
Distance covered (km): 102/100
Belgium World Cup 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.
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
Belgium beat Saudi Arabia on the 27th March by four goals to nil. Then they played Portugal, Egypt on the 2nd and 6th respectively drawing one and winning the other. Costa Rica were their final opponents and they hammered them 4-1.
- 27th March – Saudi Arabia (won 4-0)
- 2nd June – Portugal (drew 0-0)
- 6th June – Egypt (won 3-0)
- 11th June – Costa Rica (won 4-1)
Belgium 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.
Belgium World Cup Squad
Final World Cup Squad –
GOALKEEPERS: Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg), Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool).
DEFENDERS: Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham Hotspur), Dedryck Boyata (Celtic), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Thomas Meunier (Paris St-Germain), Thomas Vermaelen (Barcelona), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham Hotspur).
MIDFIELDERS: Yannick Carrasco (Dalian Yifang), Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City), Mousa Dembele (Tottenham Hotspur), Leander Dendoncker (Anderlecht), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Monchengladbach), Adnan Januzaj (Real Sociedad), Dries Mertens (Napoli), Youri Tielemans (Monaco), Axel Witsel (Tianjin Quanjian).
Probable Starting XI
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.
Michy Batshuayi picked up an ankle injury, and yet has still been named in the squad.
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?
No is the simple answer here. 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 had little time to convince Martinez that he is needed. As a result, Nainggolan has been omitted from the squad.
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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