It was during the 2018 FIFA World Cup when Belgium announced their arrival among the heavyweights of world football. Though their run ended in the semi-finals against eventual winners France, certain individual performances had cemented the belief that there were bigger things to come from Les Diables Rouges.
Belgian talisman Eden Hazard had won the silver ball in the 2018 WC, while his compatriots Romelu Lukaku and Thibaut Courtois were honoured with the Bronze Boot and the Golden Glove, respectively.
Three years later, a talented and experienced Belgium football team looks more prepared to claim their maiden Euro title.
Having previously finished as the runners-up in 1980 and in third place in 1972, winning the European Championship has remained elusive for the Belgians. However, with a proven manager at the helm now and some world beaters playing under him, the side looks more than capable of getting it done.
Belgium squad for Euro 2020
Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois, Simon Mignolet, Mats Selz
Defenders: Toby Alderweireld, Dedryck Boyata, Jason Denayer, Thomas Vermaelen, Jan Vertonghen.
Midfielders: Timothy Castagne, Nacer Chadli, Yannick Carrasco, Kevin De Bruyne, Leander Dendoncker, Thorgan Hazard, Thomas Meunier, Dennis Praet, Youri Tielemans, Hans Vanaken, Axel Witsel.
Forwards: Michy Batshuayi, Christian Benteke, Jérémy Doku, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Dries Mertens, Leandro Trossard
Despite coming to Euro 2020 with one of the most decorated squads that include numerous league and individual title winners from the recently concluded European football season, one of Belgium’s biggest strengths will be their manager, Roberto Martinez.
Replacing Marc Wilmots as the Belgium head coach after Euro 2016, the Spaniard managed to indoctrinate a solid system into the Belgian squad. His 3-4-3 formation, which has also been modified into 3-5-2 and 3-4-2-1 at times, ensured that Belgium’s success relied more on teamwork than individual talents. And though it has taken years, Belgium do look to be on the right track now.
The Red Devils have scored an astounding 40 goals to win all their 10 games and qualify for Euro 2020. Martinez’s tried and tested system saw his team concede just three goals during their Euro qualifying campaign.
Since their semi-final loss at the 2018 World Cup, Belgium have lost only two matches and Martinez looks like the man who could give tournament favourites France a run for their money.
Belgium's three-man defence aided by wing-backs make them difficult to break down. Expected to play out from the back, Martinez will want his defenders to play with confidence and caution. However, their ageing defenders haven’t had the best of domestic campaigns to take momentum with them into the Euros.
Belgium’s first-choice defenders in a three-man defence are Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham Hotspur), Jan Vertonghen (Benfica) and Jason Denayer (Lyon). The defensive trio has seen their clubs concede a joint 115 goals in 110 league games last season.
This has been the year of Romelu Lukaku. The towering centre-forward led Inter Milan to their first Serie A title since 2010, scoring 30 goals and providing 10 assists in all competitions.
Having scored 60 goals in 93 international appearances for Belgium, Lukaku will start as the designated poacher up front. Under Martinez, Lukaku has scored 61 goals and provided 21 assists in 126 games so far, and this will be a great opportunity for him to finally reach the potential that was promised in Everton years back.
What makes Belgium threatening is their ability to seamlessly unlock defences in the final third. Belgium have some of the best players in the business playing in the attacking third. From Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne to Youri Tielemans and Dries Mertens, they boast some of the most creative minds in the business. Their technical prowess and ability to resist pressure and pressing is second to none.
While Hazard had an underwhelming season with Real Madrid, De Bruyne ended the 2020-21 Premier League season with not only the league title but also the PFA Men's Players' Player of the Year award. He had six goals and 14 assists across 23 appearances. His compatriot Tielemans, who plays deeper in midfield, ended his season as an FA Cup winner with Leicester City with him scoring a memorable goal in the grand finale.
Having been clubbed into Group B alongside Denmark, Finland and Russia, Belgium will be eyeing a smooth path to the knockout stages, and their power-packed squad will certainly have the confidence to go all the way and help the Red Devils win their first-ever UEFA Euro title.
Written by: Subhayan Dutta
Featured Image: AFP/ Michael Regan