Four years after recording their best ever finish at a World Cup, Belgium arrive at this winter’s edition of the tournament looking to go even further and finally claim gold – with time running out for the nation’s golden generation.
In 2018, Belgium reached their second ever world championship semi-final before beating England to finish third in the competition, improving upon the national side’s 1986 effort in Mexico. Having lost to eventual champions France in Russia, Belgium entered last summer’s Euros with confidence as they targeted a first major trophy – only to fall to the same fate as they had in 2018, bowing out against soon-to-be champions Italy in the quarter-finals.
This winter’s World Cup in Qatar likely marks the team’s final outing under coach Roberto Martinez, and it might even represent the final chance that players like Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku have to become world champions.
Will they succeed in that long-elusive goal? First they must navigate Group F, in which they take on Croatia, Morocco and Canada.
Here is everything you need to know:
Group fixtures (all times GMT)
Wednesday 23 November: Belgium vs Canada – 22:00
Sunday 27 November: Belgium vs Morocco – 16:00
Thursday 1 December: Croatia vs Belgium – 18:00
Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid), Simon Mignolet (Club Brugge), Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg)
Defenders: Jan Vertonghen (Anderlecht), Toby Alderweireld (Antwerp), Wout Faes (Leicester City), Arthur Theate (Rennes), Zeno Debast (Anderlecht), Thomas Meunier (Borussia Dortmund), Timothy Castagne (Leicester City)
Midfielders: Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City), Leander Dendoncker (Aston Villa), Youri Tielemans (Leicester City), Yannick Carrasco (Atletico Madrid), Amadou Onana (Everton), Leandro Trossard (Brighton), Axel Witsel (Atletico Madrid), Charles De Ketelaere (AC Milan), Hans Vanaken (Club Brugge)
Forwards: Eden Hazard (Real Madrid), Dries Mertens (Galatasaray), Jeremy Doku (Rennes), Romelu Lukaku (Inter Milan), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Dortmund), Michy Batshuayi (Fenerbahce), Lois Openda (Lens)
Ones to watch
Star – Kevin De Bruyne: The Manchester City midfielder, 31, is arguably without equal in the category of Premier League playmakers. Perhaps slightly ahead of Eden Hazard as the finest talent in the greatest squad Belgium has ever had, De Bruyne will likely be the side’s key player if they are to go all the way at long last.
Breakout talent – Amadou Onana: It is unclear how much of a role the Everton midfielder will play this winter, but if the 21-year-old is given enough minutes then look for him to prove himself as the kind of tenacious ball-winner that can provide the perfect platform for De Bruyne and co to create.
Odds to win the World Cup (taken from Betfair)
Belgium should top their group and have the talent to beat any team in the world on their day. Yet they have come unstuck against the eventual champions at their last two major tournaments – beaten by Italy at last summer’s Euros and by France at the 2018 World Cup. While there is no shame in that, they will need to overcome that big-match hurdle if they are to win their first major trophy. Their quarter-final victory over Brazil in 2018 proved they can do it, but this is likely their last chance to produce such a performance before this golden generation starts to rust. Defeated in the semi-finals.
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