Belgium face Serbia knowing that a draw will guarantee them a place in the World Cup qualifier playoffs as they will finish second at worst. That won’t be enough for them as the team, the coach, the fans and the country are all more optimistic about success than they have ever been before.
The whole of Belgium expects a victory. The team is now 12th in the FIFA ranking and everyone feels that a top ten place is well within the Red Devils’ grasp. The away game in Belgrade was the match that got everyone talking and the 3-0 victory was Marc Wilmots best result to-date.
Wilmots continues to have a firm grasp on the squad and it’s obvious that he is well respected. The main question ahead of the Serbia match is who will line up alongside Vincent Kompany in the absence of the injured Thomas Vermaelen. Daniel Van Buyten is likely to get the nod as Wilmots as always been a fan of the Bayern defender’s strength and experience. The alternatives are to bring in Zenit’s Nic Lombaerts, who never seems to get the call, or to move Jan Vertonghen into the centre and bring in Hannover’s Sebastian Pocognoli. The last option seems the least likely.
Most observers feel that Twente’s Nacer Chadli will line up in midfield, a move that could liberate Kevin De Bruyne to go further forward in the absence of Eden Hazard. That will leave Marouane Fellaini on the bench, a position he may have to get used to when he joins the national team. Yesterday, Wilmots spent a long time talking to Romelu Lukaku in the centre of the pitch at the end of training. He was probably explaining why Benteke would be starting the game tonight.
There is still interest in Serbia, despite the team being in third place, some nine points behind Croatia and Belgium with four games remaining. The Serb coach Siniša Mihajlović has been giving youth a chance since he arrived in charge but with mixed results.
Mihajlović has announced his team, unlike Wilmots, and he’ll be playing with two defensive midfielders and with Twente’s Dušan Tadić as the main creative force. Up front – and making his debut – will be Partizan teenager Aleksandar Mitrović, 10 goals in 25 matches in the league this season.
Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanović and Manchester City’s Aleksandar Kolarov will start at full back and their enthusiasm to go forward could leave Serbia open at the back. The presence of Dušan Basta, Udinese, could help on the right side in that respect. Another teenager – who has been watched by several big clubs – is Lazar Marković, also of Partizan, on the left wing. Not available are Benfica’s Filip Đuričić and CSKA’s Zoran Tošić – once of Manchester United – both are injured, while Manchester City’s Matija Nastasić is suspended.
Belgium are on a roll and should win. Serbia will not lie down quietly though and Belgium need to ensure they don’t concede an early goal, otherwise it could be a tough night in Brussels.
Belgium likely team:
Courtois; Alderweireld, Kompany, Van Buyten, Vertonghen; Witsel, Chadli, Dembele; Mirallas, Benteke, De Bruyne
Stojković; Ivanović, Biševac, Subotić, Kolarov; Fejsa, Milivojević, Tadić; Basta, Marković, Mitrović.