Belgium v England: too close to call?

As the FIFA 2018 World Cup draws nearer, we enter the last month of preparation before England face the toughest team of their group, Belgium. Having never been defeated by the Belgians in a world cup game, England has the omen set for another victory. But with the Belgian team becoming a true international force within recent years, both teams are equally as likely to win the battle for number one on the 28th June in Russia.

The teams will have to beat Tunisia and Panama, both credible sides with nothing to lose and all to gain, to lead Group G. When these European giants meet it will be toe to toe action, with all their skills on display. So let’s take a look at both squads.

England’s expertise


We’ll start with England, who are managed by Gareth Southgate, a former England defender and midfielder. Southgate was capped 57 times and certainly has on the ground experience at a national level. He has revealed his 23 man squad which he describes as a balanced squad: “It is a young group, but with some really important senior players so I feel the balance of the squad is good, both in terms of its experience, its character and also the positional balance.” The selection process has been described as a method which took months of planning and based on improving team chemistry and keeping a momentum of high performance. The England squad consists of:

  • GOALKEEPERS: Jack Butland, Jordan Pickford, Nick Pope
  • DEFENDERS: Trent Alexander-Arnold, Gary Cahill, Phil Jones, Harry Maguire, Danny Rose, John Stones, Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker, Ashley Young
  • MIDFIELDERS: Eric Dier, Dele Alli, Jordan Henderson, Fabian Delph, Jesse Lingard, Ruben Loftus-Cheek
  • FORWARDS: Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, Danny Welbeck, Jamie Vardy

A strong start


England went through the qualifiers unbeaten, but the road to glory has many obstacles which now become ever closer and even more challenging. All three goalkeepers were selected over previously favoured Joe Hart, with Jordan Pickford the favourite to start in Russia.

On the back, England has an array of options which encompasses speed, youth and something all defenders need: a level head. John Stones and Harry Maguire are the favoured centre backs, both tall men who can win the ball in the air and send it up field, with Maguire having a knack for ball control and gaining ground. Danny Rose will be the best option for left back with former Tottenham team-mate Kyle walker at right back. The average age of England’s first team defence will be 26 years old, more or less, this is the prime age for fitness and physical strength needed to gain possession and control the pace. To support England’s backline defensive duo Phil Jones and Ashley Young will be able to use their experience to ensure any risks can be nulled.

In Midfield they have Eric Dier and Dele Alli, again two Tottenham players who can be relied on for getting the ball forward into dangerous positons, however Alli has seen his domestic form dip this season. Manager Southgate has also selected Jordan Henderson who has previously disappointed England fans expectations, yet he could possibly be wearing the captains armband or at least be deputy.

Up front is where England has variety and great options. Raheem Sterling is a player with agility, quick pace and good control; this goes hand in hand with Marcus Rashford a notorious name due to his pace he can trouble the very best defence. Harry Kane is domestically one of the supreme strikers, he also could be wearing the captain’s armband, however his performance in Euro 2016 was poor and he has yet proven to be effective in national games. Jamie Vardy can expect a lot of match time, as with his goal scoring ability, he has been regarded as fearsome player who can score in times where it really counts. Bringing in national experience is Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck, a surprise inclusion but will be able to offer advice to the younger players.

Belgium’s bringing top form


Now a look at Belgium, who’s manager Roberto Martinez formerly played as a defensive midfielder. He has become known for his managing capability leading Swansea City to promotion from league one, helping Wigan Athletic avoid relegation for three consecutive seasons, and winning the FA cup in 2013 – the first time in the clubs history.

With star player Radja Nainggolan out due a disagreement between the manager, Martinez is expected to display tactical flexibility. Belgium’s squad is also very balanced with some fantastic players so they must grasp the opportunity to win the world cup in Russia before their internationally renowned players succumb to age.

  • GOALKEEPERS: Koen Casteels, Thibaut Courtois, Simon Mignolet, Matz Sels
  • DEFENDERS: Toby Alderweid, Dedryk Boyata, Laurent Ciman, Christian Kabasele, Vincent Kompany, Jordan Lukaku, Thomas Meunier, Thomas Vermaelen, Jan Vertonghen
  • MIDFIELDERS: Yannick Carrasco, Kevin de Bruyne, Mousa Dembele, Leander Dendoncker, Marouane Fellaini, Eden Hazard, Thorgan Hazard, Adnan Januzaj, Dries Mertens, Youri Tielemans, Axel Witsel
  • FORWARDS: Michy Batshuayi, Christian Benteke, Nacer Chadli, Romelu Lukaku

An equal opposition


Belgium went through qualifying in an efficient manner, winning all but one (as they took a draw to Greece), and breaking a world cup qualifiers record with 43 goals scored. If they can keep up their momentum they will be sure to reach later stages of the world cup and could even be tipped to win.

With four goalkeepers, they have two British premier league talents, Thibaut Courtois (likely favourite to be the starting keep) and Simon Mignolet; and two shot stoppers Koen Casteels and Mats Sels. Manager Martinez also has a good selection for the back line: Tottenham duo Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweid, and of course the powerful Vincent Kompany. The remaining defenders Thomas Meunier, Thomas Vermaelen, Dedryk Boyata, Lazio left-back Jordan Lukaku, Christian Kabasele and veteran Laurent Ciman gives Belgium a very strong defence with tactical awareness and plenty of contingency in case of injury or bookings.

With Radja Nainggolan not selected to the surprise of Belgians, Martinez’s midfield is based on chemistry and Nainggolan could disrupt this moral. Nonetheless, Belgium’s key players are their midfielders and it is still a force not to be reckoned with; with Kevin De Bruyne bound to show his prowess and ability to pressure, Maroaune Fellaini to bring a physical advantage and Mousa Dembele will be working his hardest to stay relevant and secure wins.

Leander Dendoncker and Youri Tielemans will bring their youth to Belgium’s squad both players are sure to prove themselves on the world stage as talented midfielders. In attack Martinez for the past two years has developed a striking force which is cohesive, dangerous and frightening for all countries in the world cup. Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens and Romelu Lukaku seem to be an unstoppable power, with an average age of 27 these forwards have a great balance of experience and youth, and this is the perfect time to win the world cup.

The verdict


This game will be perfect for both teams as they are expected to pass the group stages and it is the last group game. It is probable this will be a fast paced game with plenty of attempts on goal. Overall, Belgium is looking like a better team with more experienced players. In fact, this year could be Belgium’s year, not only for this match, but to go on to win the World Cup. England are largely untested, so it may be difficult to know how they’ll get on, but if they don’t put pressure and allow Belgium space enough to find their rhythm, then they can edge this and secure a win.


Posted with permission from Brelgium
Photos: © unsplash, wikimedia