World Cup 2018: Lukaku and Hazard to guide Belgium through


Continuing our series of looking ahead at this summer’s primary contenders in the World Cup in Russia, attention now focuses on Roberto Martinez’s Belgium. Often considered underdogs and outside bets, the Belgians have been improving regularly over the course of the past decade or so, and enter the competition this time around favoured ahead of the likes of former world champions England and Uruguay. While the improvement has been steady, it could be argued that this Belgium squad will be among the finest the nation have ever produced. A raft of stars ply their trade in one of Europe’s top flights, including several Premier League, Serie A, Bundesliga and Ligue 1 stars.

Head coach Roberto Martinez has an embarrassment of quality at his disposal – but whether or not he can get the most out of them is something we will only find out across June and July. Players such as Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard are among the highest quality players in the world – and importantly they still have plenty of years ahead of them. The experience in the squad is plentiful as well, with Thomas Vermaelen, Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen, Dries Mertens and Laurent Ciman having spent more time playing than they have left ahead of them. That kind of mix leaves Belgium in a lovely position of potentially going through a successful transition from one generation to the next, and while there are youngsters threatening to knock the door down ahead of Euro 2020 and Qatar 2022 this squad would appear to imply that the nation’s status as football’s “next big thing” is on the verge of coming to fruition.

While few may expect Belgium to go on and win the whole show, some decent progress throughout the early stages and into the quarter or semi-finals could be seen as a real success. Then again, they reached the quarters in Brazil 2014 and so perhaps the semis will be a target to signify true progress. Head coach Roberto Martinez is not short on ambition, and will be driving his players forward as far as he can – and while it is largely true that it is the players who do the job once the starting whistle has blown, those stars have been getting the job done for their respective clubs throughout the course of the season. Rarely has the future looked so bright for the Red Devils.

It is perhaps fitting considering Belgium’s history at the World Cup that former defender Phillipe Albert sits joint sixth in their list of all-time highest World Cup goalscorers. The likes of Hazard and Lukaku will be hoping they can make it onto that list, and with fellow group contenders England, Tunisia and Panama they will be confident of bagging some goals and moving through to the later stages.

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