Belgium play Bosnia and Herzegovina tonight in Sarajevo. On paper it looks like the toughest match in the qualifying group. Last week they easily beat Andorra and now the hard work starts.
Looking at the Belgian squad, the strength lies in midfield. Even though Zenit’s Axel Witsel and Everton’s Kevin Mirallas are missing through injury, there are no less than nine candidates for five places.(Assuming: 4-2-3-1)A couple of years ago I wrote about six of those: Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Manchester United’s Marouane Fellaini, Spurs’ Moussa Dembélé, Napoli’s Dries Mertens, Anderlecht’s Steven Defour and Wolfburg’s Kevin De Bruyne. Since then, the midfield area has been boosted by Spurs’ Nacer Chadli – who moved to the Premier League a couple of seasons ago – Manchester United’s Adnan Januzaj and Roma’s Radja Nainggolan.
If you throw in Monaco’s Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco, Borussia Monchengladbach’s Thorgan Hazard and Anderlecht duo Dennis Praet and Youri Tielemans, you could argue that by the time the 2016 Euros kick-off, the Belgium coach – and it could well be Marc Wilmots – will have 15 candidates for five places. At 27 years and 4 months, Mertens is the oldest of that group.As well as having a high number of players to choose from, several – including de Bruyne, Witsel, Chadli and Defour – can play in a number of midfield positions. De Bruyne is happiest in the no. 10 position but he can also slot in at no 8 or on the wing. Witsel can play in front of the back four and in a more advanced role, as can Defour. Chadli has played centrally and on the flanks for Belgium.
Since the World Cup finals, Belgium’s options have been boosted by the – some would say late – arrival of Nainggolan in the squad. Since his high-profile move to Roma, he’s been a little more on Wilmots’ radar but it wasn’t enough to get him in to the squad for Brazil.
Nainggolan is another versatile midfielder, capable of playing box-to-box or sitting in front of the back four. The Roma team is quite capable of winning the Scudetto and if it does it would not be a complete surprise if Nainggolan was named Player of the Year. But that’s just supposition; the fact is simply that Belgium’s squad is now much stronger with a warrior such as Nainggolan in the frame.
As for tonight’s game, Defour and Nainggolan will sit in front of the back four with De Bruyne in a more advanced role. Despite Eden Hazard hardly ever playing well for his country, he returns on the wing and surprisingly Lille’s Divock Origi, on loan from Liverpool, comes in on the wing. My money would have been on Chadli staying in the team with Origi in the middle.
The team is therefore: Courtois, Alderweireld, Kompany, Lombaerts, Vertonghen; Nainggolan, Defour, de Bruyne; E. Hazard, Lukaku, Origi.