For such a small nation, Belgian football is certainly booming. For their recent friendly against Macedonia Belgium fielded an impressive eight players currently contracted to Premier League clubs. When you consider that the three not to be signed for an English side are players for Bayern Munich, Ajax and Zenit it is easy to see why there is such hype over Belgian football. This does not mean however that we need to go overboard. I have seen people talking about this side as a real force to be reckoned with for the World Cup next summer and even some talking about them as potential champions. This is foolish and ignorant in my opinion because whilst this side is good, they are a long way from potential world champions.
Firstly and perhaps most importantly we have to consider the age of a lot of these players. Whilst most of the backline will be entering their prime, the main attacking outlets will still be in their early twenties. Players such as Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Christian Benteke will still be a couple of years away from hitting the top of their game. Of course in a season and a half’s time it is hard to know where all these players will be but back in 2010 and even last summer a lot of people were feeling pretty confident about Germany’s chances. A new, vibrant and above all young side excited a lot of people with the football they played but ultimately they came short in the semi-finals of both tournaments.
Lack Of Full-Backs
Another thing that concerns me watching Belgium is their lack of full backs. Against Macedonia they fielded four centre halves and even when they have all their players fully fit that doesn’t change. With their 4-3-3 formation that they play it can leave them a bit exposed on the wings at times and if one of the front three doesn’t track back their full backs will find themselves exposed. This hasn’t been a pressing concern in qualification but if they do make it to Brazil next summer they will come up against teams of greater quality than Croatia or Serbia, especially given that neither of these sides have particularly strong wingers. When Belgium faced the stand out winger in the group, Gareth Bale they did play with a genuine right back in Guillaume Gillet. He however is far from world class and whether it is he or a centre half that plays in Brazil they will undoubtedly come undone against truly potent attacks.
Then there is the inexperience of this side. The only two players in the current squad to be part of the last World Cup squad are Daniel Van Buyten and Timmy Simons and at 35 and 36, respectively, it is highly unlikely they’ll have a major role to play, if any. Of course the side has some experience and is very talented but a World Cup is something different and performing there is always tricky - it is a real test. If you don’t believe me look at England sides over recent years. Packed to the brim with star quality but never delivered at a major tournament since 1990. Also you may argue that nowadays it is Champions League football that is the real experience but bar Van Buyten and Lukaku, who rarely featured, none of the current team has made it to the Champions League semi-finals.
Furthermore this isn’t just any old World Cup, this is a World Cup held in Brazil, an entirely different continent. Not only do the players have to adjust to the climate they’ll also have to adjust to the atmosphere at Brazilian stadiums and around the country generally. It is for this reason alone that I am considering a South American side far more seriously than I would if the competition was being played in Europe. Most of these players will have only played in South America as a pre-season tour or in a exhibition match. Few will have been there for a sustained period of time playing competitive football. Playing abroad is tricky but playing in a whole other continent is even harder. It is a shame that Belgium didn’t make it to South Africa in 2010 as that would have at least given them an idea of what that is like.
They're Not As Strong As Their Rivals
Finally there are the other teams to consider. It is very easy to say Belgium have a real shot in 2014 but there are still a host of other teams who will be disappointed to not finish above them. Spain, Germany, Italy, France and England will all be hoping to put on a good show should they all make it. Hosts Brazil will see this as the perfect time to make it six World Cups and arch rivals Argentina will be feeling pretty confident with the firepower they possess. All that without even considering Russia, Holland and Portugal. Belgium are good but they are not that good.
The Belgians are an extremely talented side and they possess some of the best young players in world football today. That does not mean however they are shoe-ins for 2014 or even that they’ll be one of the big players. I’d be amazed to see this side go past the quarter-finals and in fact I’m tipping the side they will probably look to replicate a few years down the line. In 2010 and 2012 the Germans were just lacking that little bit but now with a few more years under their belts I think they are extremely well placed to go all the way. As for Belgium they should enjoy the experience and use it as a stepping stone for France in 2016 and then Russia in 2018.