Belgium World Cup Preview & Analysis: Schedule, Roster & Projections
Pictured: Kevin De Bruyne.
- After a successful 2018 World Cup campaign, Belgium is back for more.
- Will they be able to better their result?
- Read on for Anthony Dabbundo's preview.
The 2022 FIFA World Cup has arrived, and Action Network's staff of soccer experts are here to take you through each and every team that will be participating.
Read on for a full breakdown of Belgium ahead of the tournament, and click here for analysis on each of the other 31 teams.
Belgium World Cup Preview
Belgium have been a popular tournament pick at each of the last four international events. Not known as a footballing giant normally, the Belgians rode their golden generation to the top of the FIFA rankings and had multiple deep trips in international events.
They didn’t qualify for the Euros in 2012, but it was clear what was building. By 2014, they had a defense at its peak and an attack full of youth and talent. The Belgians won their group in the World Cup, beat the United States and then lost 1-0 to Argentina in the World Cup quarterfinals. The period of expected triumph came after that, but the actual wins and trophies never did.
Belgium lost to Wales 2-0 in the Euro 2016 quarterfinal, when the path was wide open for them to make the final. In 2018, their World Cup run ended in the semifinal with a 1-0 defeat to eventual champions France. At last summer’s Euros, Belgium won their group but failed to get past eventual champions Italy in the quarterfinal.
The center backs are old now, there’s not nearly as much young talent being infused through the next generation and the Belgians appear to have missed their window. This is their last best chance. Belgium’s main key contributors are all over the age of 30 with Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens, Axel Witsel, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen all either at the end of their primes or on the downslope of their careers.
|Chances To…||Action Projections||bet365 Odds|
|Win Group Stage||45.65%||-188|
|Advance To Knockout Round||74.63%||-700|
|Win World Cup||3.09%||+1600|
|Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.|
Belgium’s weakest area traditionally, even during the golden generation’s peak, was the full backs. Roberto Martinez likes to use a three at the back defensive formation, so I would expect that in this World Cup, too. That means Yannick Carrasco and Thomas Meunier as the first choice wing backs with Timothy Castagne rotating in for depth and substitutions.
The entire team is built around the idea of having lots of possession and keeping it at all costs. That’s generally a Martinez principle, and it fits them well given their personnel. The problem for the Belgians comes when they don’t have the ball.
Belgium have excellent progressive passing numbers and pass completion rates. They’re one of the best teams in the world on the ball and they succeed against low blocks.
Their weaknesses were exposed in the Euros when teams were willing to contest midfield and expose their inability to play without the ball. They’re not aggressive defensively and don’t have a lot of ball-winning in the midfield. If the midfield pairing is Witsel and Youri Tielemans, they won’t have the ball-winning or defensive solidity of some of the other top teams in this competition.
The biggest problem for Belgium probably won’t come in the group stage, where they’re expected to go through. The Round of 16 matchups will likely be either Spain or Germany. Both of those sides are better possession-dominant sides that create matchup problems for the Belgians.
Key Player: Kevin De Bruyne
De Bruyne is the poster boy of Belgium’s golden generation of talent. He plays at the best club team in the world and consistently dominates the Premier League with his elite ball carrying, passing and shooting abilities. De Bruyne isn’t just a threat from set pieces – especially free kicks – but a dominant force in transition, and he has a special connection with Lukaku that has fueled Belgium for nearly a decade now.
De Bruyne has maintained his stellar form for Manchester City this season. He ranks in the top sixth percentile in Europe for xAssists, progressive carries and progressive dribbles. He’s getting more than three shots per match, which is almost unheard of for a midfielder. Many strikers in the Premier League don’t even get that many shots per match.
He’s also produced more than six shot-creating actions per match and is averaging 0.70 xG + xA per match. The Belgium attack is built around getting the ball to Lukaku and De Bruyne and letting them tear defenders apart with precision and power. They’ll go as far as De Bruyne takes them.
The most likely formation for the Belgians is a 3-4-3 with Alderweireld, Vertonghen and Jason Denayer in the center of defense. They opt to drop off and be more compact defensively when they don’t have the ball, because they’re not a team built to effectively counterpress and win the ball back immediately when possession is lost.
Belgium could be exploited in behind because of this. The center backs aren’t known for their pace, and if the midfield and forwards aren’t going to press heavily, opposing players will have time on the ball to pick out passes and long balls over the top of the defense. In many ways, Belgium play like a classic international team. The out of possession structure isn’t always there, and the plan to win the ball back tactically and with the personnel is sometimes lacking. But when on the ball, the individual quality and passing ability of the side is as dangerous as anyone.
Transitions are not an area where Belgium thrives, either. They found a lot of success in that quarterfinal vs. Italy through youngster Jeremy Doku’s breakout game by playing more direct through him. But that’s not Plan A for Martinez’s team. Italy exposed Belgium’s lack of structure in transition defense when the Italians pounced on high turnovers to score the first goal.
Belgium are also more of a slow build-up team instead of a team looking to break with numbers aggressively at pace to exploit opponents.
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Belgium World Cup Schedule
|Canada||2 p.m. ET, Nov. 23|
|Morocco||8 a.m. ET, Nov. 27|
|Croatia||10 a.m. ET, Dec. 1|
Most Recent World Cup Result
Third Place (2018)
Belgium's 2018 World Cup campaign was a dominant one through the group stage, where they won all three games. After that, a comeback win over Japan was followed up with a victory over Brazil. In the semifinals, France ousted Belgium with a professional 1-0 victory.