The BBC recently predicted that Belgium would win the World Cup. One of the factors that prompted this argument was the efficiency of their defence. Presumably this was based on their record in the qualifiers: six goals conceded in 10 games.
Over half of those games were against opposition such as Estonia, Cyprus and Gibraltar. There were concerns about Belgium’s defence many years ago. Now, Roberto Martinez has gone to Russia with major injury worries about Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen.
On Saturday, it was announced that FC New York’s Laurent Ciman was returning to Belgium but would remain on stand-by until 17.00 tonight. That’s the latest time that someone can be added to the squad according to FIFA regulations.
Vermaelen has not played for other a month while Kompany was injured playing against Portugal at the beginning of June. Martinez has said the former will be fit for the second group match with the latter available for the match with England.
Leaving both Kompany and Vermaelen in the squad is a massive gamble by the ex-Wigan coach. Will they be fit as they have not yet trained? Will they be able to play 90 minutes? Will they be able to play consecutive games?
Maybe Martinez plans to alternate them? Whatever he’s thinking, he’s starting a World Cup with 21 players and one of the world’s top midfielders, Radja Nainggolan, not even selected.
So, it looks like Belgium will line up against Panama with a back three of Toby Alderweireld, Dedryk Boyata and Jan Vertonghen. The only viable back-up for Boyata is Anderlecht utility player Leander Dendoncker.
If the team gets through the group stages, Germany or Brazil are the likely opponents in the quarter-finals. It’s impossible to predict who will be 100% fit by that stage but Martinez is not thinking of switching to a back four. Plan B is, of course, Marouane Fellaini.
Remarkedly, Alderweireld recently admitted that Belgium have never tried out playing with four at the back as they all know that way of playing at their clubs. Maybe, but there could be echoes of the quarter final with Wales at the 2016 Euros. This could end in tears.