Roberto Martinez’ ‘golden generation’ Belgium side come into the tournament as third favourites to win Euro 2020 at 11/2, desperate to win a first major tournament for this outstanding crop of talent.
Ranked as the number one side in the world according to the FIFA World Ranking, the Red Devils are in red hot form and have arguably the best — if not one of the best — squad in the competition, inclusive of the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard.
It is arguably a side that has underachieved in major tournaments, however. Belgium were knocked out in the quarter finals of Euro 2016 by Wales courtesy of an astonishing Hal Robson Kanu goal, and they were also knocked out of the last World Cup at the semi-final stage by the eventual winners France, going on to beat England in the 3rd placed play-off.
In part 3 of our Euro 2020 preview series we take a deeper look into the golden batch of Belgian talent, assessing form, playing style and key players, before pulling some more key odds.
Euro 2020 Qualifying: WWWWWWWWWW
As good as it gets. Belgium walked their Euro qualifying group — understandably a straightforward one — winning ten from ten against Russia, Cyprus, Kazakhstan, Scotland and San Marino. In the process they managed 40 goals (4.0 per game) and conceded just three.
More general form hasn’t been perfect, but it hasn’t been too bad either. They’ve won seven of their last 10 including victories against England (2–0), Wales (3–1) and Belarus (8–0), the only blemishes being a defeat to England in the Nations League and a 1–1 draw with the Czech Republic in March.
Finals have been a source of contempt for Belgium, however, and they have only ever been in one final, that being the Euro 1980 final in which they lost to Jupp Derwall’s West Germany side.
It has been a case of stick to what you know for Martinez, who has consistently deployed a 3–4–2–1 formation during his tenure with Belgium, continuing to make best use of his assets in central defence and in more attacking positions.
The former Spurs pair, veteran centre-backs Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld (still at Tottenham) will likely flank the 25-year old ball-playing Lyon centre-back Jason Denayer. Real Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois is the clear choice between the posts.
Belgium’s hardened back three allows them to compensate for an inexplicable full-back deficiency, with Martinez likely to opt for Thorgan Hazard — a winger by trade — and Thomas Meunier, both of Borussia Dortmund.
In the middle, the perfectly dovetailed double-pivot of Axel Witsel, who will provide industrious spirit and defensive solidity, and Youri Tielemans, graceful in possession and owner of a wicked right foot.
Up-top is where the real fire power is. Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne will be deployed as inside-forwards, given the freedom to roam the attacking third and produce the magic we know they can. The side will be spearheaded by recent Serie A winner with Inter Milan, Romelu Lukaku, who bagged 24 goals last season and has shown the best form of his career under Antonio Conte.
Kevin De Bruyne: After another outstanding season for Manchester City — in which he bagged six goals and 12 assists, as well as racking up the best assists per 90 (0.52) and expected assists per 90 (0.49) in the league — KDB will be desperate to guide his national side to glory this summer.
Deployed as one of two inside-forwards, De Bruyne will have the freedom to drift all over the pitch and look to be the main source of creativity, as he does in sky blue, to devastating effect. What goes relatively unnoticed however, is his ability to drag his team forward with progressive ball-play, as shown by his numbers for progressive carries per 90 (9.60) and progressive passes per 90 (7.51) both of which are in the 98th percentile for midfielders across Europe’s major leagues this season.
On top of all the objective numbers, however, De Bruyne’s immeasurable qualities take him up another level into the upper echelons of attacking-midfielder. He is a leader, a captain with or without the armband. His seemingly unwavering determination to be the best and to win it all impacts not just him but all those around him, and it’s this which makes him most likely to lead Belgium to the trophy.
Romelu Lukaku: As incredible as De Bruyne’s numbers have been this season, you can’t help but imagine what could’ve been he had a world-class striker ahead of him. Well, imagine no more. Cue Romelu Lukaku.
The former Chelsea striker — who, along with De Bruyne, was let go by the London side — looks to have rediscovered the form that turned him into a household Premier League name, and then some. 36 games, 24 goals, 11 assists. His Serie A record of a goal every 120 minutes this season pushed him to break Ronaldo’s record of being the quickest player to reach 50 goals for the Nerazzurri, doing so in just 70 matches in black and blue stripes.
Under the strict management of Conte, the now 28 year old has massively improved the nutritional aspects and cut some considerable bulk, transforming him into the stone-cold world-class finisher he is today.
It’s important not to ignore the improvements in build-up play also — 11 assists is the second highest in Serie A this season — and his manager has made a point of focusing on the front-mans first touch and link up play in training, something that has paid serious dividends for Inter and is likely to do so for Belgium.
Martinez and Belgium are a close third bring home a long awaited trophy, coming in at 11/2 to Win Euro 2020. They are also third most likely to reach the final at 11/4, whilst being odds on at 8/11 to win their group.
In terms of goalscorers, Romelu Lukaku is the clear favourite to win the Golden Boot for Belgium at 7/1. You’d then have to go as far as 33/1 to find the next Belgian, Eden Hazard.
The Red Devils are 4/6 to win their first game against Russia.
Belgium are in Group B with Denmark, Finland and Russia.
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