Belgium World Cup Squad: Attackers
And so we come to the attackers in the squad, as per Marc Wilmots’ squad announcement. Christian Benteke’s absence means Romelu Lukaku will lead the line with young Divock Origi the surprise inclusion. Either side there are some rather exciting players including Eden Hazard and another youngster in Adnan Januzaj.
The unlikely jewel in the Belgium crown following a devastating injury to Christian Benteke which ruled him out of the entire competition. It has been no secret that Wilmots preferred Benteke as his leading striker although I would argue Lukaku is in fact the better of the two players. For Wilmots’ seemingly quite rigid system, however, he demanded Benteke as his striker with Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard flanking him. That has come to pass and now Lukaku leads the line and Wilmots has somewhat reluctantly changed his team to suit, now allowing De Bruyne to fill in the ‘number ten’ role to Lukaku’s number nine.
What Lukaku does allow for ticks all the imagined clichéd boxes you could hope for. He’s a bull. He’s strong, powerful, quick yet also skilful and graceful on the ball with the ability to round defenders and goalkeepers or send in thunderbolts from outside the area. He’s tall which lends itself to his aerial ability and makes life difficult for any defender. As he proved with devastating effect in the iconic win away to Croatia, he is a real threat in behind, more so than Benteke. Domestically he had a great season with Everton in England and will be looking to make another step up and with the path at Chelsea always seemingly blocked he could be set to go in the opposite direction as Diego Costa moves to London from Atletico Madrid.
Incorrectly labelled as Belgium’s most dangerous player the Chelsea playmaker has never quite had the success for the national team that he had domestically this season. Undoubtedly one of the worlds most talented players the reasons for his lacklustre national appearances are two fold. On the one hand there is just that ceiling above him that he just hasn’t managed to break through yet, perhaps stemming from his status amongst the Belgian fans – and then the fact he isn’t played in his most profitable position by Wilmots. Hazard is a number ten, a player which Belgium have coming out their ears currently and they prefer to offer to the more reliable Kevin De Bruyne.
Hazard may get some way off his reputation but he is a highly talented player and when things go right for him, things tend to go very wrong for the opponents. So while coming into the tournament he may not be strictly speaking Belgium’s key player, opponents will need to be wary of him as he has the ability to change the game in an instant. One good thing about Benteke’s injury and therefore Lukaku’s inclusion in the squad is how De Bruyne has been moved central, this means Hazard and himself are much closer on the field more often and for anyone who has seen the duo link up this can be a sight to behold. Should Belgium be successful then it may be down the partnership between De Bruyne and Hazard as opposed to either of them as a singular entity.
Kevin Mirallas is the most likely to profit from Wilmots’ change from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 as it is possible he will be the extra attacker in that line of three that support Lukaku. It’s a somewhat controversial choice as he has had a fantastic season at Everton but many would suggest Dries Mertens the more worthy. Wilmots seems to appreciate the players versatility who would be able to join Lukaku in a striking partnership if necessary, which many of his colleagues would not suit. Like a lot of the players in the Belgian squad Mirallas has never played in the Pro League and instead started his senior career at Lille, much like Eden Hazard. Since then he has played for Saint-Etienne, Olympiacos and Everton and has been amongst the goals to a fair degree while at Merseyside.
His partnership with Lukaku at Everton may be what is swaying Wilmots to start him ahead of Mertens as it seems it would be a straight shoot out between the pair for the position. When Belgium take to the field for their opening group game you will most likely see Mirallas starting with Mertens coming on as an impact substitute with twenty minutes to go – or at least that seems to be what Wilmots is likely to do.
We have largely covered Mertens in the above paragraphs regarding Mirallas but you just can’t ignore the Napoli wingers great season in Italy. There may be some discontent between Serie ‘A’ fanatics if they see Mertens backing up Mirallas while Radja Nainggolan failed to make the team as a whole but it is no disrespect to the Italian top division.
Prior reading at BeNeFoot would easily turn up Dries Mertens’ inauspicious start to football. Too small for Anderlecht and unable to convince KAA Gent of his talent he got his first break at third division side Eendracht Aalst. It wasn’t until 2009 he really made it when he joined FC Utrecht in the Netherlands, a move to PSV followed where he continued to be one of the Eredivisie most creative players and then he found his way to Napoli for €9.5 million. While he may not be expected to start for Belgium in Brazil, give his career you can guarantee he’ll fight all the way to the end to give the nation their best World Cup possible when he is called upon.
Something of a wild card for Belgium he is yet to make his official debut following a Marc Wilmots error in the 5-1 win against Luxembourg. Januzaj would have received his first cap for Belgium against Luxembourg however Wilmots inadvertently made 7 substitutes which ruled the game unofficial in the eyes of FIFA and therefore took away Januzaj and Sammy Bossut’s first caps. Januzaj featured against Tunisia, coming off the bench for Eden Hazard and you figure that will be all he is limited to in Brazil – appearances from the bench.
Januzaj’s inclusion was both surprising and not so. He did not feature in the qualification at all as he had not yet committed to a country and Wilmots was very keen to take those who got the team to the World Cup originally – hence no Nainggolan. However after a fantastic first season with Manchester United where he broke through from the reserves to the first team he seemed a logical inclusion and put an end to Thorgan Hazard’s slim chances. He probably won’t feature massively, at least not at first, but Januzaj is certainly one for the future and will be targeting the European Championships in 2016 as an opportunity to put his mark on the Belgium squad.
A very unexpected choice from Marc Wilmots who chose Lille’s young striker ahead of Michy Batshuayi. Perhaps there was an inkling that Batshuayi may divide the squad somewhat with his erratic behaviour or maybe Wilmots sees Origi as the bigger star and wants to include him in the squad as he feels it will be beneficial to him in the future. In all honest there aren’t many people who are expecting to see the youngster feature in Brazil and if he is to be relied upon it is likely that Belgium’s chances in the competition have long been shattered.
An exceptionally talented young player, he is two-footed, quick and can play across the front line. It is likely that not only will he be behind Lukaku in the striker list but also I feel Wilmots will favour Kevin Mirallas as a lone striker before he risks Origi in such a high pressure situation. Still, the environment should do him a world of good for future tournaments that he must be targeting and he can return to Lille boosted with the confidence that came from making his full international debut and first start.