Today, with Belgium, and our 400th post, we continue, in reverse alphabetical order, to provide the profiles of the 32 teams which qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
The Red Devils are participating in their fourteenth World Cup. They were eliminated in the Group Stage five times, made the Round of 16 five times, came in fourth in 1986, made the Quarterfinals in 2014, and came in third in 2018. Possessing one of the greatest generations in their history, the current team is ranked number two in the world by FIFA.
Placed in Group F with Croatia, Canada, and Morocco, the Belgians believe they will progress in first place, and they are likely correct. Only Croatia offer any real challenge for the Red Devils, so they should be moving on to the Round of 16 where they will likely meet Spain or Germany in what would be one of the top games of the 2022 World Cup. The Belgian home kit colors are a red shirt with yellow and black highlights, and black shorts and socks with red highlights. Their away kit is all white with red, black, red, and green highlights on the shirt and green stripes on white socks.
Belgium is a European nation of 11,849 square miles situated above France, next to Germany, and under the Netherlands on most maps. Neanderthal fossils, dating 100,000 years back have been found in the crossroads county, one which has seen many of the battles of Europe and lies on a language barrier between Latin-French and Germanic-Dutch speaking peoples and encompassing the Flanders area of Flemish speakers. The country is divided into coastal plains, a major plateau with thickly forested hills (the Ardennes), and has a maritime temperate climate with temperatures ranging from a winter low of 37F to a summer high of 64F
Mentioned in Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars (55 BC), the country was ruled by many different powers from the Romans and Merovingians to the Carolingians, who had overseas territories (Congo in Africa and in Central America) until their independence from the Netherlands was recognized in 1839. Today they are a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy of 11.6M people who are 67% Belgian ethnically, 60% Christian, officially speak Dutch, French, and German, have a GDP of $715B, and an HDI score of 0.931 (very high).
Belgium has given us Gerardus Mercator, Andreas Vesalius, Simon Stevin, Rembert Dodoens, Ernest Solvay, Zenobe Gramme, Georges Lemaitre, Eddy Merckx, much Flemish art with the Netherlands, Nobel prize winners in Medicine, Physics, and Chemistry, two Fields Medal recipients, aside from great beer, chocolate, waffles, and French fries—a national dish being steak and fries.
Squad (which may change before the cup given injuries, form, and coaching choices—teams mentioned are subject to change given transfers): Goalkeepers—Thibaut Courtois, (Real Madrid), Koen Casteels, (Wolfsburg), Simon Mignolet, (Club Brugge), and Matz Sels, (Racing Strasbourg); Defenders—Dedryck Boyata, (Club Brugge), Timothy Castagne, (Leicester), Wout Faes, (Leicester), Thomas Meunier, (Borussia Dortmund), Arthur Theate, (Rennes), Jan Vertonghen, (Anderlecht), Toby Alderweireld, (Antwerp), Jason Denayer, (Unattached), Brandon Mechele, (Club Brugge), and Zeno Debast, (Anderlecht); Midfielders— Kevin De Bruyne, (Manchester City), Charles De Ketelaere, (AC Milan), Leander Dendocker, (Aston Villa), Eden Hazard, (Real Madrid), Thorgan Hazard, (Borussia Dortmund), Alexis Saelemaekers, (AC Milan), Amadou Onana, (Everton), Hans Vanaken, (Club Brugge), Axel Witsel, (Atletico Madrid), Youri Tielemans, (Leicester City), and Leandro Trossard, (Brighton); Strikers—Dries Mertens, (Galatasaray), Yannick Carrasco, (Atletico Madrid), Dodi Lukebakio, (Hertha Berlin), Lois Openda, (Lens), and Michy Batshuayi, (Fenerbahce).
Path to Qatar
Belgium were placed in Group E of UEFA World Cup qualifying and punched their ticket directly to Qatar by topping the group—consisting of Wales, Estonia, Belarus, and the Czech Republic—without a loss and with a +19-goal differential.
Belgium’s Spanish Coach, Roberto Martinez, has not been able to routinely make successful strategic determinations let alone astute half-time modifications, but Belgium, playing a 3-4-3 when all of its stars are healthy and in form are a beautiful team to behold. It will be important to their hopes of making a deep run in Qatar for the top players to be ready as their aging replacements are not at the same level and would render this a B-level team instead of the A team they are with all cylinders functioning.
The team is one for the ages—midfield magician Kevin de Bruyne leads a squad with the likes of strikers Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard, Thibault Courtois in goal (perhaps the best keeper in the world right now), defenders Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, and Thomas Meunier, and midfielders Axel Witsel, Youri Tielemans, Dries Mertens, Thorgan Hazard, and Yannick Carrasco. Though some of these players probably peaked in the 2018 World Cup, quite a few are still in their prime or just about to be slightly over. If they can jointly reach the cup in their best forms this team will be one of the favorites in Qatar.
Group and Tourney Prospects
The problem with Belgium has been the same for the past two Euros and World Cups—despite having on paper one of the best teams in the world they always underperform. Whether it be coach Martinez putting together a misguided game plan or simply not reacting successfully to in-game occurrences, or star players not being in form or health at critical junctures, or playing poorly in the crucial match, the star-crossed team has yet performed almost to expectations—coming in sixth overall in 2014 and third overall in 2018, defeating England at the Group Stage and in the Third-Place game and Brazil in the quarterfinals in Russia.
Though advancing from their group seems a foregone conclusion, Belgium’s second test, after group-mate Croatia, will be against either Spain or Germany in the Round of 16, and that will be their make-or-break moment. If they can win that match convincingly then they have a chance to run the table. But, even then, they would likely have to defeat Portugal, France, and Brazil in successive matches to lift the cup and that prospect, even for Belgium at its highest level, would seem be a reach too far.