Sweden – Belgium preview

When Belgium take on Sweden in Stockholm later today it is likely to have the hipsters salivating.

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That Belgium are already attracting a lot of attention around the world is well known. The expectations on them in Brazil are high. It will be an interesting match against a team who will not be travelling to the World Cup by virtue of a play off loss to Portugal and have one last errand to complete before heading off on their holidays.

With that said, Sweden will still field a strong team with well known and talented players. Zlatan Ibramhimovic is likely to overcome a back injury and will be the focal point for at least an hour of a team also boasting players familiar to many such as Johan Elmander, Sebastian Larsson and Kim Kallstrom.

The focus for this match, of course, is on the Belgian side. Expect them to line up in a similar fashion to the way that they lined up against Luxembourg, with one of the midfield three pushed up a little higher to support the attack. Over the course of qualifying the shape of the team has evolved and it continues to do so now as they begin to revolve their team more around Romelu Lukaku instead of Christian Benteke.

Expect to see Simon Mignolet given a game in goal. Sammy Bossut, now number three in the pecking order due to injuries, played in the recent 5-1 win over Luxembourg and with Thibaut Courtois set to keep goal in Brazil it means the Liverpool number one should see his time come tonight.

There will be no Jan Vertonghen on the left of defence with Thomas Vermaelen set to take over. Yet another centre back being forced out wide to accommodate Belgium’s lack of natural full backs. Not that it’s only Belgium, a quick look at the other teams squads will reveal a glaring deficiency in highly accomplished left sided defenders.

Up front is where the evolution of Belgium’s squad is most evident. Originally the centre of the park would house three midfielders; generally Witsel would sit deepest of a three, with two trusted lieutenants either side and just ahead of him. But lately the midfield three have been inverted. Witsel and another will hold the fort and the third, in this case Kevin De Bruyne, pushes up just behind Lukaku. Eden Hazard stays on one flank and it also allows Belgium to use yet another of their many attacking talents – this time likely to be Napoli’s Dries Mertens.

Don’t expect anything ground breaking. Belgium will go through the motions and keep their fitness levels up. Meanwhile Sweden will run around and put up a bit of a fight, they’ll be the bodies on the pitch but the minds of the players might already be elsewhere. The key is Belgium don’t get any injuries, particularly up front where they are already extremely thin on the ground.

Likely Belgium XI: Mignolet; Alderweireld, Van Buyten, Kompany, Vermaelen; Witsel, Dembélé; Hazard, De Bruyne, Mertens; Lukaku

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