Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughWatch out! The Belgians are Coming! - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Watch out! The Belgians are Coming! - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Watch out! The Belgians are Coming!

Belgium haven’t seen many glory days since the 1980’s, when they reached a World Cup quarter final and a semi final just 4 years later. Further still, they came 2nd in the 1980 European Championships. However, many factors suggest the emerging breed of players will stop this rot of national failures.

Picture this: the established full-back guard of Thomas Vermaelen and Daniel Van Buyten glue the defence together, protecting an improving Silvio Proto. This goalkeeper, under pressure for his place from Thibaut Courtois, is confident in his centre-back pairing of Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Lombaerts. The ball is played from a goal-kick, through a midfield trio of Marouane Fellaini, Axel Witsel and Jan Vertonghen and falls to Eden Hazard. Hazard turns an opposition defender and weaves himself between two more before rifling a cross-field ball to Moussa Dembele. Dembele hits a first time cross to the on-rushing powerhouse called Romelu Lukaku, who duly smashes a header past the helpless goalkeeper. Just 25 minutes later, Vermaelen lifts aloft the UEFA European Championship trophy. Crazy, moi?

Let me explain the methods to this mad vision scooped from the sanctum of my mind. Silvio Proto is looking impressive in goal, with Simon Mignolet not a bad choice as back-up. As if this wasn’t enough, Chelsea-bound  Courtois is being tipped as a future star. But what is a good goalkeeper without his defence? Nothing, and this is why Vermaelen and Van Buyten become so important. Currently those two and Kompany have racked up an impressive 133 caps between them. This experience is going to be vital, and even if Van Buyten has been replaced by the ever-impressing Toby Alderweireld it won’t be a disaster. Guillaume Gillet is another player who could potentially steal in at Van Buyten’s right-back spot.

The midfield is interesting. If the formation is 4-3-3, expect Fellaini to be in there due to his aerial prowess, with Vertonghen holding back to play a more defensive role. The other midfield slot could go to a few players including Jelle Van Damme, highly-rated Steven Defour and Witsel. Witsel has reason to be aggrieved that other players even got a chance to prove themselves in a slot he should command, after a horrific leg-break akin to that of Eduardo at Arsenal. Another potential for the final midfield place would be Anthony Vanden Borre. The depth runs deeper however, with plenty of youngsters starting to flourish in the Jupiler Pro League.

The attack is where Belgium is creating ripples across the football world though. The breakthrough of Eden Hazard is the obvious point to start on. This tricky dribbler, likened to Luis Figo by some despite being just 20 years old, has been on the radar of every top European club, most notably Arsenal who have reportedly been enquiring on his availability all summer. He, on his own, is a reason the future looks bright for Belgium. On the opposite wing is Dembele, a strong, quick attacker who’s willing to work for the team. He is the only player of this attacking triumvirate not to be hunted by an elite European club, yet his talent is known. The icing for the cake is Lukaku. A diamond in the rough, he has pace, power, strength and great aerial ability. If he does get his Premier League move, be it to Chelsea or any other club, he needs to brush up on his finishing. His finishing isn’t woeful, but to become the complete striker he needs to become clinical. Is he the new Drogba? Possibly better. He turned 18 in May and could still become one of the greatest, particularly with such an up and coming national side. If he improves at the expected rate, he will become one of the most feared strikers in the world. There is plenty of back-up in the case of injuries too, with Kevin Mirallas and Marvin Ogunjimi, just to name two, being perfectly able to take over the goal mantle.

However the real quality of Belgium’s team is the versatility. All the defenders mentioned above can play centre-back or full-back positions, with Kompany comfortable across the entire midfield too. The midfield are versatile too, with Vertonghen able to play as a defender if needed and Fellaini able to become a target man, if the need arises. Of course, Hazard is able to become a fourth man in the midfield too.  This versatility is not just helpful during tournaments when certain players may get suspended or injured, but it means the formation can be changed mid-game to suit the situation without subs being needed.

In terms of comparison, Spain and Germany are the standout European teams to have quality coming from their youth, however Belgium do not have the expectation of those two. They enter tournaments wondering how far they might go, if they might get a ‘big game’ and if they can provide an upset. Spain and Germany (alongside nations such as England and France) enter tournaments with the idea that anything less than an appearance in the semi-finals is a complete failure. The media sets targets, sometimes unrealistic, that the nation then sees as a minimum achievement. This pressure has been blamed for some poor performances by certain teams, even if it does sometimes appear to be little more than a poor excuse. Belgium can enjoy their game, play football and take whatever results they receive in their stride.

The Belgian’s are renowned for making fine chocolate. They are not renowned for producing some of Europe’s finest athletes. The fact that 10 of Belgium’s last 24-man squad play in the Jupiler Pro League still suggests the quality of player production isn’t too bad. Even more telling is that just three of that same squad play in the Premier League (one as the understudy of Craig Gordon at Sunderland). This team is based a lot on potential. If it is fulfilled, I can see the scenario printed a few paragraphs above becoming reality. Crazy, moi?

Seb Segarra

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