Joachim Loew’s young German side, who managed a third-place finish at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, will be looking to pick up where they left off against Belgium for Germany’s first round of European Championship qualifying matches. The tournament will be held in Poland and Ukraine in 2012, but before Joachim Loew’s side can set their sights on the trophy, they will need to top a very competitive qualification group where they will be pit against the likes of Turkey, Austria, Belgium, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. Germany’s qualification campaign starts against a Belgian side who are full of young talent of their own, and will probably be Germany’s main threat for qualification.
Loew’s side will know that their opponents are well equipped and are very capable of beating any opponent on their day. Despite having a relatively low profile on the European and World football scenes, Belgium are a side that continues to improve thanks to the impressive youth setup the domestic league has adopted. Experienced manager Georges Leekens will likely field a lineup capable of attacking Germany while remaining solid in defense. Here’s a possible starting XI:
Bailly – Gillet, Vermaelen, Kompany, Deschacht – Fellaini, Defour, Witsel – Hazard, Lukaku, Dembele
Borussia Monchengladbach goalkeeper Logan Bailly certainly would be a top choice for any national side, and while many would expect him to be severely tested against Germany, the four defenders in front of him are nothing shabby either. Anderlecht duo Gillet and Deschacht may be Belgium’s weak-spot, but they will more than likely tuck back and seldom push forward to support attacks. With Thomas Mueller and Lukas Podolski running at them, they’d be wiser to hold their position than burst forward. At the heart of Belgium’s defense is Arsenal’s Thomas Vermaelen, dubbed ‘The Verminator’ for his no-nonsense approach, and Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany, whose positional sense and awareness will be key for Belgium.
In midfield, Belgium have players capable of controlling possession and passing opposition sides to death. Everton’s Marouane Fellaini, who will be Belgium’s destroyer in midfield, will sit behind Standard Liege duo Steve Defour, who will play the ‘Xavi’ role for Belgium, and Axel Witsel, who will look to dribble through the center of the pitch and supplement attacks. Defour’s passing range is vast, and his creativity from deeper positions will be a real threat that Germany will need to be very aware of. Witsel, on the other hand, is a much more attack-minded player. He will look to use his movement and his quick passing moves to link up with Belgium’s front three and carve Germany’s back-line open with quick one-two’s around the 18-yard box.
Up top, Belgium are inexperienced but hugely talented. The average age of Belgium’s attacking players is only 19 and a half, but their quality cannot be denied. Outside-left is Lille wonderkid Eden Hazard, who has been likened to both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi because of his excellent dribbling skills and flair. I personally think he is a player very much in the mould of Franck Ribery, who can cut an opposition defender to ribbons before cutting inside and either picking a pass or trying a shot from the edge of the box. Certainly an immense weapon in Belgium’s arsenal. Wide-right is Fulham’s newest addition, Moussa Dembele. Dembele made his name with AZ Alkmaar in the Eredivisie where he helped his side to the title in the 2008-2009 season after narrowly missing out under manager Louis van Gaal in the 2006-2007 term. Dembele has already netted for Fulham despite playing only three games for the English side, and has also been their best creative threat since joining in the summer. Through the middle is Belgium’s youngest but arguably most promising player in the form of the towering Romelu Lukaku.
Lukaku has just recently broken into Anderlecht’s first-team, but has been extremely impressive despite his very young age. Lukaku’s physical presence is what makes him a real threat in the box, where he will look to get very tangled up with Germany’s center-halves. Think Didier Drogba, but a lot taller.
The match will certainly not be easy for Loew’s side, but if they can snag three points against Belgium – who will probably be their hardest competitors in their qualification group – then they will likely cruise to qualification.
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