The first point to make about Belgium’s U21 squad to face England in Mons on Monday is that it doesn’t contain the country’s more illustrious young players. Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Thibaut Courtois are all in the senior squad, while Gent’s Yassine El Ghanassy is injured and has hardly ever played for the U21s.
This leaves a somewhat inexperienced team to face an England side that has a 100% record in the 2013 qualifying matches so far. On paper, England should be far too strong for Belgium as they have Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson and Martin Kelly, Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Chelsea’s Josh McEachran and Aston Villa’s Gary Gardner who scored two goals in five minutes in England’s 5-0 win over Iceland last week.
Belgium’s U21s don’t have a particularly good record in recent years; they only won one in five matches last season, against Scotland. There is talent however, and the majority of the team play fairly regularly in the Jupiler League.
Koen Casteels is likely to be in goal. He was at Genk at the same time as Thibaut Courtois and is just six weeks younger than the Atletico Madrid keeper. Strangely, Casteels elected to leave Genk, for Hoffenheim, at around the same time that Courtois was talking to Chelsea. He’s a talented keeper without the same media profile as Courtois.
In defence, Cercle Brugge’s Gregory Mertens is one to watch. Bob Peeters noticed him when he coached Gent’s reserves and swooped for him in January. He’s now a pillar in Cercle Brugge’s defence – the team is currently second in the Jupiler League. At left back, Jimmy De Jonghe has had a few runs in Club Brugge’s first team.
Midfield looks to be the weak area. Last weeck that area was patrolled by Lokeren’s Nill De Pauw (the captain), Beerschot’s Guillaume Francois and Lamisha Musonda (18) the eldest of the three sons of ex-Anderlecht striker Charly Musonda; all three sons play for various Anderlecht youth teams. Lamisha has not yet featured in the Jupiler League team.
In attack, the picks are Club Brugge’s Thomas Meunier, who has been one of the revelations of the season in the Jupiler League, Gianni Bruno who has scored a hatful of goals in the Lille youth teams – but has yet to play in Ligue 1 – and in the Belgium youth squads, and Anderlecht’s Ziguy Badibanga – who’s played a few times in the Brussels’ team’s first 11.
Also in the squad are Brescia’s Omar El Kaddouri who has – it is said – been attracting attention from Napoli, Genoa, AC Milan, Palermo and Parma; Westerlo’s Arnaud De Greef, a central defender who decided to leave Anderlecht to get some first team football, and Colin Coosemans, Club Brugge’s under-fire keeper. Finally, Stoke City’s Florent Cuvelier has been promoted from the U19 squad.
It will be interesting to see how Belgium fare under relatively new boss Francky Dury. They need to win to stand any chance of qualifying for the European U21 finals in Israel in 2013.
Table to-date, all teams have played 4 matches.
England 16, points; Norway 7; Belgium 5; Iceland 3; Azerbaijan 1.