Team Profile - Belgium

17 May 2018 09:10:50 EST

Coach: Roberto Martinez
Number of World Cup Appearances: 12
Best World Cup Performance: Fourth in 1986
Number of World Cup Titles: 0
Qualifying Form: Played: 10, Won: 9, Drawn: 1, Lost: 0
Major Trophies: 0
Most Capped (current) Player: Jan Vertonghen
Key Player at World Cup 2018: Eden Hazard

Lead-up to the Tournament:
With a number of top players in their ranks and after a cruise of a qualifying campaign which saw them smash a European-best 43 goals, Belgium, 1/10 to qualify from their group and 11/2 to be eliminated at the semi-final stage, have been widely talked about as the potential ninth winners of the World Cup.

They went into the 2014 edition as dark horses but 'only' made the quarter-finals, failing to impress. There were greater expectations at Euro 2016, but again the Red Devils bowed out at the last-eight stage, this time losing to Wales.

This group of players - many of whom ply their trade at the English Premier League's top clubs - is now under pressure to deliver at a major tournament, as is new manager Roberto Martinez.

The Spaniard was regarded as a surprise choice for the role, particularly after a disappointing end to his reign at Everton where his tactics were widely questioned.

Despite losing just one of his 16 matches in charge (a friendly v Spain), those tactics are now being criticised again in the run-up to the finals - with one of the team's stars, Kevin de Bruyne, among the snipers.

Following a 3-3 draw with Mexico in November, he said: "As long as there is no good tactical system for the team, we are going to face difficulties against countries like Mexico. It's a pity that we have not yet found a solution."

A 4-0 win over Saudi Arabia in March will have done little to quell the critics so whether Belgium can avoid another tournament flop remains to be seen.

The Squad:
Belgium's 23 will be the envy of the majority of nations at this tournament - it is moulding those players into a winning team that has been the problem.

Chelsea's Eden Hazard is the creator-in-chief, one who also chips in with plenty of goals (six in qualifying), and he's also backed up in midfield by De Bruyne, fresh from playing the starring role in Manchester City's Premier League title success in England.

Marouane Fellaini and the experienced Axel Witsel can provide the steel in the middle of the park while up front Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku netted 11 times in the qualifiers. Other options include Napoli's Dries Mertens.

Belgium are also blessed at the back with Jan Vertonghen, Vincent Kompany and Toby Alderweireld among those available to manager Martinez.

That said, will Kompany manage seven games in four weeks? And Alderweireld's lack of matches at Spurs will be a worry.

The biggest area of concern is probably the full-back positions where Martinez has often picked players who would prefer to be playing at centre-back, such as Vertonghen, thus following a pattern which was criticised as a flaw at Euro 2016.

Fixtures:
18th June - Panama, Fisht Stadium, Sochi
23rd June - Tunisia, Spartak Stadium, Moscow
28th June - England, Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad

Provisional Squad:
Goalkeepers:
Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg), Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), Matz Sels (Newcastle United).
Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham), Dedryck Boyata (Celtic), Laurent Ciman (Los Angeles FC), Christian Kabasele (Watford), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Jordan Lukaku (Lazio), Thomas Meunier (Paris St-Germain), Thomas Vermaelen (Barcelona), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham).
Midfielders: Yannick Carrasco (Dalian Yifang), Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City), Mousa Dembele (Tottenham), Leander Dendoncker (Anderlecht), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Monchengladbach), Adnan Januzaj (Real Sociedad), Dries Mertens (Napoli), Youri Tielemans (Monaco), Alex witsel (Tianjin Quanjian).
Forwards: Michy Batshuayi (Chelsea), Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace), Nacer Chadli (West Brom), Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United).

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