The Belgium team to play Wales in the first World Cup qualifier will be announced tomorrow and the competition for places is possibly keeping Marc Wilmots awake at night. The real pressure is in midfield. Assuming Belgium play 4-2-3-1, then there are no less than eight candidates for those five central roles: Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Everton’s Marouane Fellaini and Kevin Mirallas, Tottenham’s Moussa Dembélé, PSV’s Dries Mertens, Porto’s Steven Defour, Zenit’s Axel Witsel and Werder Bremen’s Kevin De Bruyne.
So with Witsel, Fellaini and Dembélé being pencilled in, it will either be Mertens or Mirallas who joins Hazard on the flanks. De Bruyne has probably not done enough to warrant selection yet.
It will be interesting to see how Wilmots uses Fellaini, as he has never played in an advanced role for Belgium, where he excelled against Manchester United recently. It’s unlikely he’ll be used that way tomorrow.
As for the main striker – with Romelu Lukaku saying he hasn’t got 90 minutes in his legs – it could be Aston Villa’s new signing Christian Benteke who leads the line. Mirallas is another option but on past form he’s more of a winger than a standalone striker.
In goal, Atletico Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois is likely to get the nod over Sunderland’s Simon Mignolet. That will be unfortunate for the ex-Sint Truiden keeper, but Courtois is becoming an unstoppable force of nature. At full back, it will be Anderlecht’s Guillaume Gillet and Tottenham Hotspur’s Jan Vertonghen; although not natural full backs, they’ve performed credibly and no else has been tested in recent matches.
Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen – both club captains in the Premier League – will line up in central defence. That means no place for Zenit’s Nic Lombaerts, voted best foreign player in Russia, and Bayern’s Daniel Van Buyten who – along with long-serving Timmy Simons – is finally winding down his international career.
The likely team then is: Courtois; Gillet, Kompany, Vermaelen, Vertonghen; Fellaini, Witsel; Mirallas, Dembélé, Hazard; Benteke.
All bets are off if Wilmots decides to play without a recognised striker and does use Fellaini in an advanced role, just behind someone like Dembélé, but that’s unlikely.