Belgium – Luxembourg preview: Sammy Bossut to debut in goal.
If you subscribe to my view that Kevin De Bruyne was Belgium’s best player in World Cup qualifying, then it should come as no surprise that Thibaut Courtois follows very closely behind. The four goals he conceded in the Champions League final were as many as he conceded in the entire ten-game qualifying campaign. With San Tibo not joining up with the squad until they jet off to Sweden for a training camp, his absence only serves to highlight the security and stability he provides to the team for much of the build-up to tonight’s friendly has centered around the men between the sticks.
Wilmots named four goalkeepers in his preliminary squad due to doubts over whether Koen Casteels will be able to travel as the third-choice goalkeper. Silvio Proto, whose desire to be part of squads as a backup goalkeeper has in the past been lukewarm at best, was named but the Anderlecht goalkeeper’s title celebrations were tempered by the news that a broken arm would rule him out completely. Zulte Waregem’s Sammy Bossut was then called up. He was highly thought of when he began his career but gained notoriety for a series of high-profile gaffes. However, in more recent times he has proved to be an integral part of his side’s remarkable success. After a scan showed that Simon Mignolet has a slight muscle strain, Bossut will make his debut tonight. Napoli’s Dries Mertens will also not feature tonight. Wilmots will at least start with the strongest side available to him in order to build up some match sharpness as a unit. This will see Toby Alderweireld at rightback – in spite of the result the extra 30 minutes he had to play on Saturday night will have done him no harm in terms of his fitness. He is due to be replaced at the break by Anthony Vanden Borre, whose own resurrection mirrors that of Anderlecht in this season’s title race. De Bruyne will be moved back into a central area from his usual wide role as Wilmots looks to see if KDB can replicate his excellent form for VfL Wolfsburg. It offers Wilmots the possibility of slightly tweaking the balance of the team away from three classic midfielders to two and a genuine playmaker, which may be required against a particularly defensive opponent. This also has the advantage of giving Kevin Mirallas some much-needed time out on the pitch on the opposite flank to Eden Hazard.
Much attention has been focused on the two other newest members of the squad – Divock Origi and Adnan Januzaj. Lille forward Origi was picked as Wilmots felt he was the closest fit to the injured Christian Benteke. One official from the Belgian FA (KBVB/URBSFA) told me that he is an exceptional talent who is adept with both feet and will add extra pace to the forward line. Under-19 coach Gert Verheyen also gave Wilmots a series of glowing reports. Januzaj has been one of the few bright spots this season for Manchester United. Having declared his allegiance to les Diables Rouges, he was always going to be on the plane to Brazil. Both should make an appearance at some stage with six substitutes allowed and Wilmots trying to secure an agreement to extend that to eight or nine. The youngsters have settled in well, which may not have always been the case in the past according to Wilmots: “The youngsters have settled in very well and I’m not surprised about that. The integration of a player never poses any problems, the others set the example for them. It’s a big change compared to when I took over the team two years ago. I had the impression I was dealing with a group of tongue-tied players. Now they communicate, they speak to each other, they say things to each other’s faces, there are leaders.” Luxembourg for their part have undoubtedly improved in recent years with victories over Switzerland and Northern Ireland in qualifiers and they ran Portugal very close in the Stade Josy Barthel. D’Roud Léiwen’s boss Luc Holtz is likely to go with a 5-4-1 formation in sharp contrast to his recent tactical shift towards a more offensive style of play. Sint-Truiden goalkeeper Anthony Moris will make his international debut in place of Jonathan Joubert. Defender Chris Philipps, just 20, is highly regarded at Metz, Maxime Chanot plays for Kortrijk, Red Bull Salzburg conqueror Aurélien Joachim has been a success in the Eredivisie and Mario Mutsch scored in a 1-1 draw against de Rode Duivels in a friendly back in 2008. The game will be played in Racing Genk’s Cristal Arena and kicks off at 1945 BST/2045 CET. It is unsurprisingly a sell out. Likely Belgian starting XI: Bossut – Alderweireld, Kompany, Vermaelen, Vertonghen – Witsel, Fellaini, De Bruyne – Mirallas, Lukaku, Hazard