Belgium in focus ahead of World Cup clash with England
The Red Devils have kicked on under Roberto Martinez.
England go head-to-head with Belgium on Thursday to decide who tops Group G with both teams already qualified.
Press Association Sport’s Carl Markham takes a closer look at one of the pre-tournament favourites to win the World Cup.
How did they get to Russia?
Belgium became the first European nation to qualify for the World Cup after the hosts, booking their spot in September last year. The Red Devils ran away with their group, finishing nine points ahead of second-placed Greece having won nine and drawn one of their 10 matches. They scored 43 goals – more than the combined total of four of their group opponents Greece, Estonia, Cyprus and Gibraltar – and conceded just six. Romelu Lukaku contributed 11 and Eden Hazard six.
Who is the coach?
A familiar face: Roberto Martinez. The former Swansea, Wigan and Everton boss was signed up just three months after being sacked by the Toffees in May 2016. He lost to Spain in his first game, a friendly, but is unbeaten since in 21 matches, winning 16. Having enjoyed success by winning the FA Cup with unfancied Wigan playing attractive football for a team with one of the lowest budgets in the Premier League Martinez moved on to Everton where, after an encouraging first season, things turned soured at the end of his third year. Has a reputation for playing an attacking style but has been criticised for lacking defensive solidity.
What can we expect from them?
This squad is Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’, so expectations are huge. And rightly so. With Manchester United striker Lukaku and Chelsea forward Hazard leading the line they are a potent force, especially with Manchester City’s brilliant midfielder Kevin De Bruyne and Axel Witsel pulling the strings behind them. With a top-class goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and a defence including Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld – not including Vincent Kompany – they are expected to go very close, if not all the way.
What is their recent form?
Impressive to say the least. At this tournament already they have swept aside Panama and Tunisia with very little fuss. They have not lost since September 1, 2016 – Martinez’s first game in charge – and arrived in Russia on the back of a tide of goals having failed to score more than once on just two occasions, one of which was a goalless draw against European champions Portugal earlier this month.
Who is the player to watch?
Amazing support today! Glad for 3 more points! Thank you everyone in Moscow!! #REDTOGETHER #family— Eden Hazard (@hazardeden10) June 23, 2018
🇧🇪 Supporters au top comme toujours! Super content des 3 points! Merci à tous et merci Moscou! 💪🏼#famille pic.twitter.com/A4s8NkhQuR
Take your pick, you are spoiled for choice. Lukaku has claimed the headlines after four goals in his first two World Cup matches but Belgium are far more nuanced than relying on the big centre-forward. Hazard is the man they look for to make things happen in the final third and he already has two goals. England’s defenders will have seen enough of him in the Premier League to know what he is capable of but stopping him on this stage may be something different.