Euro 2020 is creeping ever closer, and Belgium head into the tournament looking to finally win a major international trophy for their golden generation of players.
After being undone by the single most spectacular moment of magic at Euro 2016 (Hal Robson-Kanu, take a bow) Belgium sacked Marc Wilmots and brought in Roberto Martinez, and under the Catalan coach they’ve gone from strength-to-strength.
An impressive showing at the 2018 World Cup saw them finish third, and they will be determined to go one better this time around. Their squad is loaded with superstar talent and they have phenomenal goalscoring power on their side that could lift them to glory.
The best players Belgium are bringing to Euro 2020:
Goalkeeper: Thibaut Courtois
Thibaut Courtois was one of the best goalkeepers at the 2018 World Cup, winning the Golden Glove and being named FIFA’s The Best Goalkeeper of that year. A move to Real Madrid had him struggling for a while but he found his rhythm last year, getting six clean clean sheets and conceding just four goals in Los Blancos’ defensive march to winning La Liga. He’s carried that form over to this season and will form a near impenetrable barrier at the back for Belgium.
Defence: Toby Alderweireld
Toby Alderweireld may have been separated from longtime pal Jan Vertonghen at club level but he remains Belgium’s best defender. A tall, commanding figure with exceptional passing range, his ability to organise a defence is still top-level. He’s not what he was athletically, but pairing him with two dynamic defenders like Vertonghen and Jason Denayer should provide him all the cover he needs to lead from the back.
Midfield: Kevin De Bruyne
You could make a case that Kevin De Bruyne plays in the forward line for Belgium but we’re going to include him as a midfielder because it gives us a chance to wax lyrical about how sublime he is. The Belgian is right-footed but possesses great shooting technique on his left, and his ability to let fly from range often leads to opponents closing him down, opening up angles for passes. His crossing is absolutely deadly, his through balls are utterly ridiculous and he is one of the most creative players on the planet. From 2017-2020 no Premier League player completed more through balls (32) or picked up more assists from open play (34). He’s a phenom.
Attack: Romelu Lukaku
Romelu Lukaku has always been bristling with talent but moving to Inter Milan has seen him explode as never before. After sorting his nutrition out and being drilled by Antonio Conte every day in training, Lukaku has become stone cold world-class. He broke Ronaldo’s scoring record in his debut Inter season and continues to go from strength to strength. At 27, he’s in the prime of his career and with the likes of De Bruyne at his back he could well fire the Belgians all the way to winning Euro 2020.
The head coach:
Roberto Martinez is a coach most famous for spells coaching Swansea City, Wigan Athletic and Everton. That doesn’t sound like ideal training to coaching the star-studded Belgium side but you have to remember how good the football played by his sides was. He started the revolution at Swansea that saw them play some of the smoothest passing football in the Premier League.
With comparatively little resources compared to other teams, and constantly having to sell his best players every summer, Martinez would routinely have Wigan going on long winning runs full of fabulous football to ensure their survival every year. And the one time they did get relegated it’s because he dedicated focus to winning the FA Cup. And guess what? He won the FA Cup!
At Everton he developed a fantastic relationship with Romelu Lukaku, greatly expanding the Belgian’s skill-set and turning him into a genuinely top-class forward. An avowed Cruyffist, his style of play has drawn admiration from high places, including Barcelona themselves. However, he remains committed to Belgium and has led them to the top of the FIFA World Rankings where they have reigned since 2018. Now at Euro 2020, Martinez will be looking to translate that rankings dominance into a trophy.
Martinez has been incredibly consistent in his use of 3-4-2-1 while Belgium coach. And you can see why, looking at the squad presented to him where he has an abundance of good centre-backs and one good full-back and even then Thomas Meunier is really a wing-back. So he goes with a back three to maximise his assets.
Courtois keeps goal, obviously. And ahead of him veterans Alderweireld and Vertonghen are likely to flank Denayer, who is growing into a defender worthy of comparison with his team-mates beyond his ability to cover for their athletic deficiencies.
Youri Tielemans has become such a dominant midfielder that he has one of the two pivot spots and is responsible for moving the ball forward to the key playmakers, while veteran hard man Axel Witsel offers defensive energy and screening. Out wide the wing-backs are responsible for the side’s width in both attack and defence and these spots are usually filled by Meunier and Thorgan Hazard.
Just ahead of Tielemans are the two playmakers, who play out of the half-space and are given license to roam, find space and create danger. De Bruyne is one and the other spot is usually Eden Hazard, but with his injury woes it’s not guaranteed he’ll get the spot and Dries Mertens may have to step in. Mertens is a veteran but an all-around forward capable of supreme passing and deadly goalscoring, but most of the team’s play will run through the utterly world-class De Bruyne.
Lukaku will lead the line, showing off the full repertoire of skills that has seen him take Serie A by storm. The Inter No. 9 naturally excels at making runs off the ball to be on the end of passes and crosses the Belgian side produce, but has really improved at his hold-up play and ability to link with his team-mates, making him one of the most deadly strikers at Euro 2020.
The form guide
Euro 2020 Qualifying: WWWWWWWWWW
Belgium absolutely blitzed their qualifying group for Euro 2020, winning every single game. Admittedly it wasn’t the toughest group but they made light work of it. Forty goals scored, only three conceded and every match won by at least two. They were flying.
Recent fixtures: WDWWWWL
Belgium’s more recent fixtures have also been mostly stories of great success. The Red Devils have won six of their eight games, drawing with Czech Republic in World Cup qualifying (sandwiched by 3-1 and 8-0 victories over Wales and Belarus respectively) and losing just once, a Nations League match against England at Wembley. They avenged that, anyway, beating England 2-0 in Anderlecht to book their spot in the semi-finals against France.
Chances of winning:
Belgium are among the favourites for Euro 2020. And when you look at their form over the last few years you can totally see why. They’ve lost just four times since Martinez was appointed in 2016, and with a sublime squad absolutely overflowing with goal power and defensive solidity, it’s difficult to see someone stopping them at Euro 2020. Though they play one formation they can beat you in so many different ways, and if they can get Eden Hazard fit and into some kind of form then they’ll have the continent’s most outstanding talent available to them as well. But even without Hazard, Belgium are a juggernaut heading for Euro 2020 glory.
(Odds in this article are correct at the time of writing. 18+ only, BeGambleAware.org)