Belgium Euro 2016 Squad- Analysis and Upcoming Fixtures
In recent years, the Belgian diaspora in Europe has slowly seen its influence and fame increase. As the likes of Hazard, De Bruyne and Lukaku have flourished, so have expectations around their squad. Thibaut Courtois is no longer a fresh green stalk - he’s won league titles in London & Madrid. Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld push harder year-on-year to join that elite list.
Under the guidance of former Belgium international Marc Wilmots, the blending pot of top-notch talents has been moulded into a single, efficient unit with some serious firepower to boast of. With players like Batshuayi, Origi & Carrasco coming through, he’ll have an elite pool of talent to choose for the duration of his contract (till 2018).
From their rock-bottom position of 71st in the FIFA World Rankings in 2007, the Belgian football team rose to the no. 1 spot in just 8 years - a remarkable achievement. Is this the tournament that’ll turn the tingling promise into titanic legend? Let’s take a look at Belgium’s UEFA Euro 2016 squad.
Belgium UEFA Euro 2016 Squad
Unfortunately, for Marc Wilmots, captain and talisman Vincent Kompany will not be available after an injury-hit season culminated in his absence from this summer’s tournament. Wilmots said, “I thought about killing myself yesterday” as he laughed off his captain’s absence. Dedrick Boyata, Bjorn Engels, and Nicolas Lombaerts are also major misses in defence.
To deal with them, the Belgium squad has released a very attacking squad, with 4 strikers and 4 of the globe’s finest young attacking midfielders. In defense, Christian Kabasele is getting his international debut at the Euros and Vermaelen has been passed fit by Barcelona.
Here is Belgium’s full Euro 2016 squad:
Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), Jean-François Gillet (Mechelen)
Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham), Thomas Vermaelen (Barcelona), Jason Denayer (Galatasaray), Jordan Lukaku (Oostende), Thomas Meunier (Club Brugge), Laurent Ciman (Montreal Impact), Christian Kabasele (Genk)
Midfielders: Moussa Dembele (Tottenham), Radja Nainggolan (Roma), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Axel Witsel (Zenit Saint-Petersburg), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Dries Mertens (Napoli), Yannick Carrasco (Atletico Madrid)
Forwards: Mitchy Batshuayi (Marseille), Romelu Lukaku (Everton), Christian Benteke (Liverpool), Divock Origi (Liverpool)
Coach: Marc Wilmots
Belgian national team coach Marc Wilmots is a former Belgian international who was a part of the last ‘golden generation’ of ultra-talented Belgian youngsters. That time round, the Red Devils qualified for 5 consecutive World Cups up to 2002. By the time Wilmots became assistant manager, they were struggling to qualify for Euro 2012 - they’d eventually be knocked out at the group stage.
Never afraid of public criticism, Wilmots has openly called on players like Hazard (youngest Belgian captain ever) and Lukaku to pick their game up when needed. His team are set up in a 4-3-3 designed to be a cohesive block capable of rapid transitions. He emphasizes passing & pressing - so his midfielders play very detailed roles as the crucial elements.
Formations & Tactics
When the Belgians went to the FIFA World Cup 2014, they lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation that is a quasi-amalgamation of Wilmot’s two favourite formations (4-3-3 & 4-5-1). The quality of the players at his disposal means that he won’t be pigeon-holed into any of the 3 systems. They can be very versatile if they build the kind of chemistry that only comes with time.
When the Belgians play in a 4-3-3, they’re capable of using their pacy, tricky wingers very fast. The forwards hug the touchline and the midfielders play passes out wide before the midfield block moves up to crowd the box.
With the lack of true width at the back and a number of injuries, Belgium’s back four will be a relatively slow unit comprised mainly of center-backs. For that scenario, this system is ideal in that the back 5 will not be expected to join in counters or to overlap on the wings.
In a 4-5-1, the Red Devils can play a much more controlled football. The midfielders (especially Axel Witsel) play low and distribute the ball comfortably around. Most of the team is very competent in possession, which means they can build slowly from the back and break in transitions at any moment. Defensively, they will keep always keep a block of 6, with even the wide forwards tucking inside and helping crowd the middle of the pitch when not in possession. This is complementary to their high-energy, high-pressing style, which is normally based on man-marking.
Road to the Euro 2016 Group Stage
The Belgian national side didn’t come here the simplest way round - they qualified with one match to go.
Group B’s basement boys Andorra were dispatched in a 6-0 demolition starring Manchester City’s £53million signing, Kevin De Bruyne, with a brace in Brussels.
The following fixture saw Radja Nainggolan equalize in the second half after Edin Dzeko had opened for Bosnia and Herzegovina.
One month later, the group’s two most exciting teams met - level on points and below Israel. Gareth Bale and the Welsh came knocking in Brussels, taking another 2 points off the Belgians as Israel coasted 5 points clear. That deficit was reduced by Wales, while Fellaini’s brace lead a 5-0 demolition of Cyprus. That same man pegged the Israelis back in the 9th minute in Jerusalem as they saw out the next bout.
The Belgians would then net another 8 goals in 3 games as they punished Cyprus, then Andorra and finally Israel. Their only loss was a 1-0 reverse in Cardiff - victims of a Gareth Bale finish.
Strengths & Weaknesses
Strengths: This Belgian side is packed with rapid, skillful footballers who’re very comfortable on the ball - right down to the keepers. Their pressing and passing is very impressive and forms the core of their defensive strategy. This frees forwards from too much responsibility but ensures possession can be won higher up the pitch.
Weaknesses: While there may be no obvious weakness, their lack of experience as a group and at major international tournaments is obvious. The loss of Vincent Kompany only further highlights that and attitude problems that have crept into some of the stars. That attitude hasn’t been touted as a factor for their relative under-achievements to date, but if Belgian disappoint this time as well then questions will be asked.
With most of the Belgian stars having tasted domestic and continental success at club level, at this tournament they are no longer the surprise package. While the Brazil World Cup was a decent campaign ended by finalists Argentina at the last minute, the team didn’t really pull up any trees. For all the skill and flair in the side, they seemed too mechanical and will have seen how that wound up to their detriment.
With the quality of the squad (despite a spate of defensive injuries), Belgium should surely finish in the top 4 of this tournament - if they can avoid the French, Spanish or Germans then they can really dream of a victory.