Bel­gium

Can Martinez get the best from his stars?

World Soccer - - Contents - John Chap­man

In De Bruyne and Eden Haz­ard, Bel­gium pos­sess two play­ers of the high­est class. How­ever, Wil­mots never man­aged to get them to gel

Four years ago, Bel­gium were tipped as dark horses to win the World Cup in Brazil. In the event, that tour­na­ment was way too soon for the so-called “Golden Gen­er­a­tion”. Marc Wil­mots took the same squad to France for the Eu­ros two years later, but there had been no progress.

Now Roberto Martinez has taken over, and un­der his lead­er­ship Bel­gium qual­i­fied for Rus­sia with a record num­ber of goals. Over­all the prepa­ra­tion has been per­fect, with the one caveat be­ing that they have not yet achieved any de­cent re­sults against the world’s top teams in of­fi­cial matches.

Martinez’s first game was a de­feat by Spain, where the dif­fer­ence in qual­ity was ap­par­ent from the first minute. The coach did suc­cess­fully switch to a 3-4-2-1 for­ma­tion for the qual­i­fiers, but cracks be­gan to show in later friendlies with Ja­pan and Mex­ico.

Martinez has a fixed XI in his mind but there are con­cerns about a cen­tral mid­field duo of Axel Wit­sel and Kevin De Bruyne once the knock­out stage is reached. There is also the reliance on one or both of Vin­cent Kom­pany and Thomas Ver­mae­len keep­ing fit through­out the tour­na­ment.

Kom­pany looked good in the lat­ter stages of the Premier League cam­paign but doubts re­main about his abil­ity to play in a string of im­por­tant games. As for Ver­mae­len, he will lack match fit­ness un­less he is brought into the Barcelona line-up now they have clinched the ti­tle.

Bel­gium un­doubt­edly have suf­fi­cient world-class play­ers to make their mark on the tour­na­ment. They are also more ex­pe­ri­enced than they were in the two pre­vi­ous tour­na­ments. But ma­jor ques­tions re­main about their abil­ity to beat the best.

An un­re­solved is­sue re­lates to Radja Naing­golan. A ma­jor player in Serie A, he has not yet con­vinced Martinez that he’s needed. The coach re­cently said he would not be swayed by fans’ de­mands to in­clude him in the squad, but he’s pop­u­lar with the other play­ers.

Fi­nally, there is the in­abil­ity of De Bruyne to do for Bel­gium what he does for Manch­ester City. He showed glimpses in the sec­ond half against Saudi Ara­bia in March but that’s not enough.

In De Bruyne and Eden Haz­ard, Bel­gium pos­sess two play­ers of the high­est class. How­ever, Wil­mots never man­aged to get them to gel and now Martinez must show that he can.

Golden gen­er­a­tion... Eden Haz­ard

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