#WorldCup2018 Profile: Will Belgium drop the underachiever title under Martinez?

Martinez

One of the most shocking football stories of 2016 was the appointment of former Everton and Wigan Athletic manager Roberto Martinez as the National team manager of Belgium. Martinez was mandated to lead the Belgian golden generation to unprecedented success, and so far he is on track and this World Cup will be his biggest test yet. I do not feel he will succeed – but I hope he does. I am a massive fan of Belgium and Manchester City’s midfield maestro Kevin De Bruyne – for that reason alone, I hope he does.

It is well known Belgium have one of the most stacked squads in the World Cup with Eden Hazard and Kevin Debruyne the two standout names and Martinez has rightly focused their team play on them. Belgium under Martinez play a 3-4-2-1 formation, this is not because he wants to be sophisticated or follow the trend of three at the back in football but due to the absence of quality fullbacks in the squad (I’m not entirely sure how the formation will help, but we can go with it).

Lukaku leads the attack ahead of their two creative maestros in Hazard and De Bruyne. Hazard roams around the attacking zones while Debruyne likes to drop off to midfield to create from deep. Axel Witsel and Mousa Dembele are likely to be the two sitting midfielders while Yannick Carrasco can be deployed as a left wing back to add more bite to the attack. Belgium have a strong backline with Thibaut Courtois in goal, unfortunately, they have injured defenders in Vincent Kompany and Toby Alderweireld. A good campaign for Belgium will be a Semi-Final slot; but I feel they lack the right manager that can take them all the way.

The Three Lions of England are serial World Cup campaigners and serial underachievers. However, optimism is low for this year’s World Cup – rightly so in my books. England lack the quality they once had in the generation of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard and you can understand why a less talented and inexperienced squad is not raising the hope of the nation. Tottenham Hotspur’s star, Harry Kane is the side’s captain and key man who will lead the attack, while Raheem Sterling will occupy the role behind him in a 5-3-1-1 system. Eric Dier or Jordan Henderson will occupy the pivot role in midfield while Dele Ali/Jesse Lingaard/Ruben Loftus-Cheek will complete the numbers in the centre of the park.

The English team will be conservative in their approach and their games are unlikely to light-up. They lack creativity in midfield and their decision to play Kyle Walker as part of the back three, instead of as a fullback or wingback bewilders me. I do not expect them to advance beyond the Quarter-Finals.

Panama will be appearing in their first ever World Cup Finals and they play a 5-4-1 system that sometimes looks like a 3-4-3 when they are in attack (which will not be too often). They will focus on keeping things tight and releasing long balls to either Blas Perez or Luis Tejade in attack while Edgar Barcenas and Alberto Quintero will push inside to support the striker from the flanks. Panama has a lot of experience with six of their players with 100 caps and more. However, there is an absence of quality in the side and they will not advance beyond the group stages.

North African side Tunisia will appear in their first World Cup since 2006 and will line-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. The midfield pivot of Ferjani Sassi and Mohammed Ben Amor drop off while the wide players also drop deeper to offer passing options. Wahbi Khazri or Saf  Eddine Khaoui will occupy the no. 10 role and Saber Khalifa will likely start as a striker and is expected to work hard by pressing defenders and running the channels to create space for the wingers to come in through the centre. Dijon left winger Naim Sliti is probably the most creative player in the side. Tunisia are a good side, but may not be good enough to qualify from the group.

Predictions

  1. Belgium {Group Winners}
  2. England
  3. Tunisia {Dark Horses}
  4. Panama

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