Ahead of Belgium’s clash with Russia on Sunday, Marc Wilmots has getting a bit tetchy with the press. He walked out on one session after a Flemish journalist from Sporza asked how Vincent Kompany’s groin strain was coming along. He’s also been receiving criticism for not initially selecting a team that could beat Algeria and on having to rely on substitutes to do the job.
Wilmots probably feels he should be praised for winning the match and using 14 players rather than 11 as he had often said that he is leading a squad rather than a team. The question now is which 11 will he start with on Sunday.
Once again, Wilmots has to decide who to play in central midfield and who to play on the right wing. It is somewhat odd that Belgium have reached this stage of the competition without a settled team but the problem is that several players have not been performing of late.
Wilmots chose the Spurs’ duo of Moussa Dembélé and Nacer Chadli against Algeria but neither player did themselves any favours. Both could find themselves on the bench on Sunday. Wilmots also surprised many people by using Kevin De Bruyne on the right wing in the first game rather than in the middle of the park where he’d been playing most recently.
Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens both came off the bench and scored the goals that won the match with Algeria. Fellaini is a kind of ‘Plan B’ – when he’s thrown up alongside the main striker when things are not going well – and Wilmots could well decide to start with him – ‘Plan A’ – as a box-to-box midfielder and move him up into attack as necessary.Wilmots has also hinted that he might reunite the Standard trio of Axel Witsel, Fellaini and Steven Defour, pointing out that Defour has looked very hungry in training. It would be no surprise if he did that and kept De Bruyne on the wing, with Mertens being available from the bench.
The other two players who might be under some pressure are Daniel Van Buyten and Romelu Lukaku but I expect them to stay in the side, despite other options at centre back and Divock Origi’s cameo role against Algeria.
Russia also struggled in their first match and Fabio Capello had to turn to substitutes to get a point against South Korea. Leading scorer Alexander Kerzhakov came off the bench to equalise and he could start against Belgium. Keeper Igor Akinfeev was at fault for South Korea’s goal but Capello is unlikely to drop someone with 69 caps.
The other talking point had been the omission of Alan Dzagoev and Russia certainly looked livelier after his introduction, he could also start.
Belgium: Courtois, Alderweireld, Kompany, Van Buyten, Vertonghen; Witsel, Fellaini, Defour; De Bruyne, Lukaku, Hazard.
Russia: Akinfeev; Eshchenko. Kombarov, Faizulin, Berezoutski; Ignashevich, Samedov, Glushakov, Kokorin; Dzagoev, Kerzhakov.
Prediction: Belgium 2 Russia 1.