After two matches, Belgium are level on points with Croatia and Serbia at the top of the World Cup qualifying group. They had hoped for two victories – Wales in Cardiff, Croatia in Brussels – but it wasnot to be. A defensive error against Croatia, one that was almost repeated later in the game, and an inability for strikers to strike meant that precious home points were dropped.
Marc Wilmots was fully supportive of his team after the Croatia match saying they dominated throughout and could have won with a bit of luck. His words were eerily reminiscent of Roy Hodgson’s after England had an identical result with Ukraine; they both said their team had done nothing wrong and they’d seen many good things.
It’s understandable that coaches will defend their players as they’ll have to work with the majority of them in the coming months but, for both Belgium and England, it now appears they could well be looking at second place in their groups. They have almost identical tasks, while England face Ukraine away and two games with Poland, Belgium must go to Croatia and have a couple of meetings with Serbia.
Belgium did enough to win in Cardiff and their task was made much easier when the home team was reduced to 10 men after just 25 minutes. Against Wales, both Kevin Mirallas and Romelu Lukaku were tried at the point of the attack but neither impressed. Christian Benteke was given 90 minutes against the Croats and simply confirmed that while he will always give 100%, he’s too raw for international, and perhaps Premier League, football.
It’s to be hoped that one of these two – or perhaps Monchengladbach’s Igor De Camargo, Genk’s Jelle Vossen or even Benteke’s replacement at Genk, Benjamin De Ceulaer – will blossom in the coming months. Currently though, it’s not obvious where the goals will come from. All three in the qualifiers were scored by defenders (Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen and Anderlecht’s Guillaume Gillet) and they can’t be expected to carry the team all through the group stage.
In midfield, Marc Wilmots is still looking for the right blend and it’s worrying that most of Belgium’s goals – and opportunities – are coming from dead-ball situations. Finally, Eden Hazard remains an enigma in a Belgian shirt. Brilliant with Lille and so far with Chelsea, he’s never achieved much with the international team. Perhaps he needs someone who’s on the same wavelength and yesterday that was Dries Mertens, but all their best work was done wide on the left flank. At Lille, Yohan Cabaye was instrumental in Hazard’s success and the Belgian does seem to have developed a good relationship with Juan Mata at Chelsea. Maybe when Kevin De Bruyne matures and gets his chance, Hazard will find his partner-in-crime and they will start to steal the headlines. Until then, the Red Devils could be chasing their dreams.