It’s been a long time since Belgium played their last match in a major tournament, 12 years in fact since they lost to Brazil in Kobe. Marc Wilmots had a valid goal disallowed but he’ll have forgotten that now as he focuses on taking his team as far as possible in the 2014 edition.
Wilmots is always keen to reduce expectations and is keen to point out that his squad have won nothing yet. He says the media should ask him again in eight years if the current team is the best Belgium have ever had.
Belgium teamWilmots has not revealed his team for Algeria but veteran defender Daniel Van Buyten is expected to edge out Thomas Vermaelen as Vincent Kompany’s partner in central defence. Vermaelen has not looked particularly happy in training and is no doubt suffering from a season spent mainly on the bench and in the treatment room at Arsenal. The unlucky player is Zenit’s Nic Lombaerts who is always called into the squad but never seems to be considered.
Two posts are still up for grabs. In midfield, Moussa Dembélé and Marouane Fellaini have equal chances of playing in midfield between Axel Witsel and Kevin De Bruyne. Dembélé would offer more creativity but Wilmots might like Fellaini’s muscle against the Algerians. Other possibilities are Nacer Chadli and Steven Defour.
The final position where there is any doubt is wide right. It’s very close but I expect Kevin Mirallas to start rather than Dries Mertens. The latter can really change games when he comes on as a substitute – for Belgium and for Napoli – and Wilmots may prefer him in that role.The player to watch for Belgium is De Bruyne. He was the key player for Belgium in the qualifying rounds, scoring four goals and having four assists. His five months spent watching Chelsea – mainly from the stands – meant that he lost form and it wasn’t until his move to Wolfsburg in January that he started to perform again. Although playing on the wing in the qualifiers, he’s recently been starting as a central playmaker – a position in which he plays as to the manner born.
Remarkably, 16 of the Algerian squad were born in France. That doesn’t please the French Football Association as many have played for the French national youth teams before opting for Algeria. It doesn’t please some of the older Algerian fans either who prefer local players to be selected.
Algeria’s star player is Sofiane Feghouli, who is with Valance. He says he opted for Algeria as he was following his heart. He feels that others – Sami Nasri and Karim Benzema were probably in his mind – chose France for sporting reasons only. Algeria are a young side and one player with youth on his side is Spurs’ Nabil Bentaleb who has only risen to prominence in recent months.
The match could be closer than people think and I will go for 2-1 to Belgium.
Courtois, Alderweireld, Kompany, Van Buyten, Vertonghen; Witsel, Dembélé, De Bruyne; Mirallas, Lukaku, Hazard.
M’Bolhi, Mandi, Bougherra, Medjani, Ghoulam; Cadamuro, Bentaleb, Taider; Feghouli, Djabou, Soudani
Some of the comments re Algeria were taken from a piece in La DH by Kevin Centorame. Thank you.