International friendlies were on the agenda last week and it’s hard for players, clubs or fans to get too excited for such matches. Belgium faced Slovakia on Wednesday but a more interesting fixture took place in Mechelen on the previous night when the Belgium U21 side faced Spain.
The Belgian youngsters drew an entertaining game and it’s good to see new coach Johan Walem putting his own stamp on the squad. The spotlight was on Anderlecht’s Dennis Praet but he only played 45 minutes and it’s obvious the teenager lacks the strength to play top-flight football on a regular basis. Some of his team-mates did stand out, with four in particular catching the eye.
Two of them were together in the Lille youth team before returning to Belgium: Standard Liege’s Dino Arslanagic and Zulte Waregem’s Junior Malanda. Arslanagic (19) is a commanding centre back and captain of the Belgium U21 team. His role model is Nemanja Vidic and he could soon be a regular at the centre of Standard’s defence. As for 18 year-old Malanda, the muscular midfielder was said to be the subject of a remarkable €6 million bid by Fulham – for a player with six months first team experience – in January. Based on his U21 performance, Malanda seems to have recovered mentally from that failed move to the English Premier League.
The third player was another from Standard: Ibrahima Cissé. Also 18, he impressed at full back and in midfield against Spain. Cissé’s played occasionally for the Standard first team and has always looked composed; he could soon be playing regularly with Arslanagic at Sclessin.
Finally, there was Anderlecht’s flyer Massimo Bruno. The youngster came on for the second half in Mechelen and immediately caused the Spanish team a host of problems. He’s strong, quick and direct. Marc Wilmots will be watching his progress closely.
Belgium’s senior team beat Slovakia with Kevin De Bruyne looking the part in central midfield. He’s fast becoming an automatic pick and he impressed again in the Bundesliga at the weekend with a goal and assist against Stuttgart. Back in the Belgian league, Chelsea’s Thorgan Hazard – like Malanda, a regular in Zulte Waregem’s midfield – hit the goal of the weekend while Club Brugge turned on the style against Leuven with Lior Refaelov, Victor Vásquez and Eidur Gudjohnsen (a cameo) all to the fore.
The Jupiler Pro League (JPL) is a cultural melting pot and the Charleroi-Lierse game on Saturday was a prime example of the phenomenon. There were no less than 22 nationalities figuring on the team-sheets of the two 18-man squads. None of them were English and the JPL only counts one player from that green and pleasant land: Jonny Rowell. The midfielder played alongside Andy Carroll in the Newcastle United youth team before enduring a torrid time at Olympic Charleroi. He’s now a regular in the Waasland-Beveren midfield and the club’s improving under new coach Glen de Boeck.
Genk’s Jelle Vossen was the man of the weekend with both goals in the club’s 2-0 win at Leuven. The Genk captain has 16 goals and is far ahead of the next Belgian in the scoring charts; Club Brugge’s Maxime Lestienne has 11 with Anderlecht’s Tom de Sutter on 10. Vossen will be in European action next week as Racing Genk, the only surviving Belgian club, face Stuttgart in the Europa League. The striker said he would give ex-colleague De Bruyne a call before the game – given De Bruyne’s recent meeting with the Bundesliga club – and his advice could be useful.