12 June – Russia (8pm GMT, Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg)
17 June – Denmark (5pm GMT, Parken Stadium, Copenhagen)
21 June – Finland (8pm GMT, Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg)
Coming off an impressive third-place finish at the 2018 World Cup, Belgium are now enjoying the peak of their golden generation, but there is no room for failure Euro 2020, writes Vilizar Yakimov.
Now or never
Many thought that Belgium’s time for their first major international trophy had finally come back in 2018 during the World Cup in Russia. Led by the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Vincent Kompany and Romelu Lukaku, the Red Devils’ hopes were eventually shattered by France in the semi-finals.
Nevertheless, a win over England and a respectable third-place finish established the Belgians as one of the best teams in the world, and they’ve even been topping the FIFA World Rankings ever since. The World Cup heroics were followed by a flawless Euro 2020 qualification campaign that saw Belgium win all 10 of their games in Group I against the likes of Russia, Scotland, Cyprus, Kazakhstan and San Marino.
While none of those opponents were at the level of Roberto Martinez’s men back then, Belgium were extremely dominant and impressed heavily, especially in their two victories against World Cup quarter-finalists Russia. In fact the Red Devils have lost only two games since the World Cup and have arguably become more confident in their approach.
Huge credit should be given to Martinez, as the Spanish tactician has found continuity by playing with three at the back and he’ll likely stick to this approach this summer as well. This seems even more certain considering that Belgium still count on veterans Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld in defence, while even 35-year-old Thomas Vermaelen made the cut.
Therefore it’s no surprise that the defence is the team’s weakest link, as despite having the experience, the age of most of the centre-backs means they lack the needed speed and agility. This can become a huge problem, as 25-year-old Jason Denayer is arguably the only defender in the squad who can compensate in what is an ageing backline. Nevertheless, the presence of Thibaut Courtois, who was superb for Real Madrid this term, between the sticks should give the fans a sense of security.
Although there aren’t any world beaters in the defensive midfield area, Axel Witsel’s leadership and know-how as well as the consistency of Leicester’s duo of Youri Tielemans and Dennis Praet, mean that Belgium are well covered there.
Wing-backs are an area where a decision is needed, as Martinez will have to choose between a more balanced approach with the likes of Timothy Castagne and Thomas Meunier or go with the more offensive Thorgan Hazard and Yannick Carrasco.
Either way, Belgium’s main strength remains up top, as De Bruyne and Thorgan’s older brother Eden support all-time-leading goalscorer and star striker Romelu Lukaku. Few countries can count on a front-line of such quality, so the Red Devils are rightfully tipped as one of the favourites for the trophy.
Considering that many of the key players in the squad are well into their 30s and that the likes of De Bruyne and Lukaku are coming off their best seasons ever, Euro 2020 seems like a golden chance for Belgium to write history. It’s fair to say that this group of players is the best Belgium have ever had, so even if they don’t go all the way, a deep run is the least they should be aiming for.
Coach: Roberto Martinez — Belgium have gone from strength to strength ever since the 47-year-old was appointed back in 2016. The Catalan will now have to get the best of his world-class forwards and cope with the uncertainties of an ageing backline.
Preferred XI: Courtois; Alderweireld, Denayer, Vertonghen,; T. Hazard, Witsel, Tielemans, Carrasco; E.Hazard, De Bruyne; Lukaku
Martinez has been consistent with a 3-4-2-1 formation since he took over and it plays to Belgium’s strengths. The highlight is the collaboration between Lukaku and the supporting De Bruyne-Hazard duo, although there are fitness doubts over both of them.
Look out for: Romelu Lukaku’s 39 goals for club and country this term as well as his ridiculous record of 59 strikes in 91 games for Belgium, automatically make him the main man in Roberto Martinez’s selection.
Belgium Euro 2020 squad
Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid), Simon Mignolet (Club Brugge), Matz Sels (Strasbourg)
Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham), Dedryck Boyata (Hertha Berlin), Jason Denayer (Lyon), Thomas Vermaelen (Vissel Kobe), Jan Vertonghen (Benfica)
Midfielders: Timothy Castagne (Leicester), Nacer Chadli (Istanbul Basaksehir), Yannick Carrasco (Atletico Madrid), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Leander Dendoncker (Wolves), Thorgan Hazard (Dortmund), Thomas Meunier (Dortmund), Dennis Praet (Leicester), Youri Tielemans (Leicester), Hans Vanaken (Club Brugge), Axel Witsel (Dortmund)
Forwards: Michy Batshuayi (Crystal Palace), Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace), Jeremy Doku (Rennes), Eden Hazard (Real Madrid), Romelu Lukaku (Inter), Dries Mertens (Napoli), Leandro Trossard (Brighton)
…Russia P 12 W 6 D 2 L 4 F 21 A 17
…Finland P 11 W 3 D 4 L 4 F 20 A 19
…Denmark P 15 W 6 D 3 L 6 F 27 A 23
Nickname: The Red Devils
Top division: First Division A
FIFA World Ranking: 1
International honours: Summer Olympic Games (1920)
Most capped player: Jan Vertonghen (126)
Leading international scorer: Romelu Lukaku (59)
Belgium at the European Championships:
1960 – Did not enter
1964 – Did not qualify
1968 – Did not qualify
1972 – Third place
1976 – Did not qualify
1980 – Runners-up
1984 – Group Stage
1988 – Did not qualify
1992 – Did not qualify
1996 – Did not qualify
2000 – Group stage
2004 – Did not qualify
2008 – Did not qualify
2012 – Did not qualify
2016 – Quarter-finals
How they got to Euro 2020: Belgium swept out the competition during qualification with a perfect record of 10 victories against Russia, Scotland, Cyprus, Kazakhstan and San Marino in Group I.