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Yes, there’s a good chance.
My credentials tell you I’m a Belgian and I can reaffirm this. I can tell you we’re having high hopes but we’re extremely lighthearted. We’re shouting from the rooftops we can win but deep down we’re holding our hearts. It went wrong in Brazil and it went wrong in France two years ago. The fans are still afraid that anything will go south in Russia.
In order to win the World Cup we’ll have to play friendly games against the Germans, the Spaniards, les Bleus and the Seleçao. And I mean urgently. We mustn’t wait too long and take on the top football nations. Only then we’ll know which way the wind blows and where we stand. As far as I know and as far as I have seen, we have rehearsed against Saudi Arabia, Japan and Mexico. Every single country that I just mentioned has a chance of not appearing in the final rounds. These countries will not feature in the final stages of the World Cup. As a result, they are no touchstones. We won’t really know how good we are after having played against Saudi Arabia. The team’s spirit and testing players for the purpose of final selection of the squad stand out but that is that. It doesn’t leave us with the ‘physical exertion’ feeling.
We’re undoubtedly better than Brazil 2014. That’s for sure. The main difference with the 2014 FIFA World Cup squad is that the team now consists of more or less the same players who’ve already played a World Cup, whereas the team’s stars Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen, Thibaut Courtois, Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens and Romelu Lukaku all debuted at the highest level back in the summer of 2014. They had never played a big tournament before. Brazil was a baptism of fire. In Russia, the Belgians are no longer confronted with the unknown. They’ll feel far more comfortable. They know what it is.
We’re one up as far as experience is concerned. However, this isn’t the most important. We’re going to need a lot of luck. Burn a candle for Vincent Kompany’s fitness, pray for Kevin De Bruyne’s stamina after he played 70 competitive games with Manchester City. To the same end, a pilgrimage for Thomas Vermaelen’s fitness. Moussa Dembélé has also proven he’s fragile in the past. Toby Alderweireld is another major problem. Alderweireld doesn’t play games at Tottenham Hotspur because contract negotiations are dragging on. Reportedly, Alderweireld moves to Paris Saint Germain this summer. His head is filled with concerns. Alderweireld has a lot going on and none of it has to do with the actual game. The Alderweireld saga disturbs me.
Everything’s running smoothly up front. Lukaku crowned himself all-time top goal scorer of the national team, De Bruyne, Mertens and Hazard have been sprinkling the assists. I’m confident. I’m optimistic we’ll cause severe damage and that we’ll produce a good result. The semifinals are certainly possible. Reaching the final and eventually win the cup is viable. Much will depend on the freshness of our players, both physically and mentally. The defensive line is our Achilles Heel. Not because we’re out of shape or incapable, no, because our centre-backs have the physical strength of postcards. Both Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen shatter as hard as glass when they hit the ground. That’s not a reassuring thought.
There’s a fly in the ointment. I’m afraid that by the end of the season, Kompany and Vermaelen will be ruled out yet again or that they will face a late fitness test and as a result both of them will need to be spared until the final rounds. By that, we’d risk a loss against England and finishing second in the group stage. Then we’d draw a harder opponent in the last 8. There’s one thing you should know. Their replacements are real screw-ups. Dedryck Boyata, Laurent Ciman… I mean, they’re all not good enough compared to Kompany, Vermaelen and Alderweireld. There’s one defender in the Belgian Pro League and his name is Brandon Mechele, who plays as a centre back at Club Brugge.
Brandon Mechele comes closest to Kompany and Vermaelen level but wasn’t called up for the Saudi Arabia game. Remember that name and if you don’t see Mechele, it’s because Roberto Martinez doesn’t have eyes in his head. Mr. Roberto rather picks Anderlecht’s Leander Dendoncker over Mechele. Big talent Dendoncker who’s being wasted at his club by placing him centre back. Dendoncker is a midfielder, not a defender.
Overall, Mechele is the best man-marker I’ve seen this season apart from Kompany, Alderweireld, Vertonghen and Vermaelen. And no one speaks about Björn Engels anymore. That’s strange as well. I reckon that’s because Engels plays anonimously in Greece. Truthfully, Dendoncker hasn’t played a single game on a decent level this season.
We can be beaten if our defense is deregulated by the end of May. Then we’ll have a problem, since the team runs like a clock. In any case, Belgium have a good chance of winning the World Cup this summer but we should be prevented from devastating injuries, especially in the back three. It worries me.
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