Following United at the World Cup – Belgium

Belgium’s uber talented ‘golden generation’ have the chance to showcase their talents on the biggest stage as they seek to get out of Group H in Brazil. Their group consists of 2018 hosts Russia, Algeria and South Korea, so they should be brimming with confidence about their chances given the players at their disposal.

To assess the Red Devils’ chances in the tournament, Stretty News caught up with Belgian football expert John Chapman, writer for World Soccer, WSC, The Observer, The Telegraph and FourFourTwo.

How far, realistically, do you see Belgium going? Their squad, on paper at least, will be the envy of many.

I chatted very briefly to Ceulemans and Scifo (telephone) and they were keen to say that anything can happen in a world Cup and Ceulemans reminded me that in 1986, Belgium reached the semi finals after only winning one game in 90 minutes. Basically they were saying Belgium will qualify from their group and then they could do well. If C. Ronaldo is not there, they could easily reach quarters and then “anything could happen”. I agree.

Who are the pivotal players in the team? We all know about Kompany, Vertonghen, Hazard and Lukaku, does Marouane Fellaini come under the ‘key player’ tag?

In my opinion, there are three players who Wilmots will always select pending earthquakes / acts of God. They are Kompany, Witsel and Courtois. Kompany is the man. Nuff said. Witsel sits in front of the back four and dictates play. Courtois is Courtois, that’s tough on Mignolet. I almost added Hazard but I feel Wilmots could leave him out occasionally if only to give him a kick up the backside – he’s not been good for Belgium in his 44 games (a handful of good ones). De Bruyne is another almost in that bracket, he was the mainstay in the qualification rounds – scoring and creating, He’ll play in central midfield. Fellaini for me is not a key player. He maybe was a couple of years ago but he’s not really done it for Belgium for a long time.

Fellaini has, to put it mildly, found the going tough at Old Trafford, Wilmots has spoken about him taking ‘revenge’ in Brazil, how do Belgium get the best out of Fellaini, what is his niche position and do you think he will prove himself on the biggest stage?

Wilmots plays 4-3-3. The middle three will be Witsel (controlling), De Bruyne (creating) and one other. The other will be chosen from Chadli, Dembele, Defour and Fellaini. They will play a kind of box-to-box role. Fellaini would be there if the going gets tough, I feel the other three have an edge on him creatively. To be honest, I don’t see him ever being really top class. He was in the spotlight when he was a kind of support centre-forward for Everton but he doesn’t like playing there. And he’s not disciplined enough for the Witsel role. Having said that, Wilmots may well choose him from that group of four as he’s obviously got something to prove now.

There was a lot of controversy surrounding Adnan Januzaj, who would he play for, especially after initially turning down Wilmots’ advances. Has he been accepted into the fold, what was the press reaction to his call-up, what do you expect his role to be, and will he get much of a look-in with the plethora of talent already at Wilmots’ disposal?

It seems he’s been totally accepted. Wilmots had a word with Mirallas who sort of apologized for saying it was too soon for Januzaj to be in squad. Press reaction has been 100% positive and he looked very good, admittedly, against Luxembourg. He’s going to be back-up to Hazard, Mertens and Mirallas as a wide player. My feeling is that in a few years time he will be better than all three – but in a sense Mirallas was right, he has come a bit early. But you never know, he might come on against Brazil and snatch a winner – that would be good!

Stretty News would like to thank John once again for giving us the lowdown on Belgium.

If you enjoyed his musings, you can follow John on Twitter – @BelgoFoot

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