Belgium sees the Qatar 2022 World Cup as a chance to build on the side’s best finish in the tournament.
In both Mexico 1986 and Russia 2018, Belgium reached the semifinals. However, on both occasions, it lost to the eventual winners: Argentina and France, respectively. Most recently, Belgium narrowly lost to a French side one inch faster in every step. Even then, Belgium did not go down without a fight.
Despite Belgium’s 3rd-place finish in Russia 2018, fans were ecstatic upon the team’s return to its native land. A parade-like celebration with hundreds of thousands in attendance cheered for their nation’s best finish at a World Cup.
Moreover, the 2022 World Cup calls for Belgium’s appearance in the final match because they have improved one-up within the ‘final four’ since Brazil 2014. As a result, Belgian fans are ready to erupt when the Red Devils embark on their third cycle in November.
That sentiment persists in the team from the top to the bottom.
Roberto Martinez took over for the Belgium national side after Everton sacked the Spaniard in 2016. In Martinez’s tenure leading the Red Devils, he picked up some honors. Belgium achieved the No. 1 spot in the FIFA World Rankings. Plus, his side won its group at both Russia 2018 and Euro 2020. Again, at both tournaments, Belgium lost to the eventual winners. Plus, Martinez holds the record for most wins as Belgium’s head coach.
Entering Qatar 2022, Roberto Martinez embarks on his second foray into the World Cup. His core group of players makes its third cycle into the World Cup as the head coach of a Belgian side that embarks on their third cycle at a World Cup. After taking over ‘The Red Devils’ in 2016, the technical mastermind’s main objective is to make fans proud. The Belgian national squad is equipped with a band of elites maintaining a top-five FIFA ranking. Moreover, with a 2018 quarterfinal victory over tournament favorites Brazil, the Belgians are at their most confident.
In 2018 and four years earlier, Belgium competed with towering defenders. Toby Alderweireld, Jason Denayer and Jan Vertonghen provide the rock in Martinez’s standard 3-4-3 formation. The reliability on defense creates a freewheeling atmosphere for his midfielders. A double pivot shifts to a diamond during playmaking in the final third.
Enter the ‘big three’ Red Devils up top. Generally, this is thought to be the key for Belgium come the Qatar 2022 World Cup. However, recent club seasons for two of their stars have sparked controversy.
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Team captain Eden Hazard used to be Chelsea’s ‘Player of the Year.’ A big-money move to Real Madrid failed to pan out thus far with injuries and the blossoming of Vinicius Junior. Both play the same position, with the Brazilian getting the nod from Carlo Ancelotti this past season. In all competitions in 2021/22, Hazard made 23 appearances, scoring once and assisting twice.
Moreover, Romelu Lukaku is a forward desperate to score goals. His tumultuous 2021/22 campaign with Chelsea yielded a return to Italy. Surely, this leaves the striker in higher spirits seeking to bring Belgium its first international trophy.
Then, Kevin De Bruyne is perhaps the best midfielder in the world. He can attack and defend as a No. 7 in Roberto Martinez’s plans. De Bruyne is at the peak endurance age of 31. In the 2018 quarterfinal, his superb strike from outside the box slotted into the far-post against Brazil, defeating the Seleção, 2-1.
At last, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is the ‘X-factor’ for Belgium’s potential path to success at the Qatar 2022 World Cup. He put on an absolute gem of a game to help Real Madrid to yet another Champions League crown. His wingspan at a wild height of 6’7 makes the goal seem like a youth net. He accounts for much of the success over the last 10 years for Belgium.
Belgium at the Qatar 2022 World Cup
The Red Devils stand as -160 favorites to win Group F at the World Cup. Fixtures against Canada, Morocco and Croatia pose an interesting, and somewhat challenging, group stage. Croatia finished runner-up at Russia 2018, setting up a pivotal fixture in matchday three on December 1.
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Despite Brazil’s No. 1 ranking as tournament favorites, Belgium enters the World Cup with an edge since they defeated the Seleção 2-1 in the 2018 quarterfinals. Along with fellow contenders Portugal and Netherlands, the Red Devils currently stand at +1,200 odds to win in Qatar.
After an unlucky quarterfinal defeat to Gonzalo Higuaín’s Argentina in 2014 and appearing in the semis at the last World Cup, Belgium enters Qatar 2022 with unfinished business. Especially since Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku have a chip on their shoulders with their respective club situation.
A trip to the final will serve as a confident nod to Hazard’s club coach, Carlo Ancelotti, and perhaps, a sly innuendo to Lukaku’s former coach, Thomas Tuchel. Moreover, with Eden Hazard’s status as a ‘false nine’ behind Karim Benzema at Real Madrid, Qatar 2022 is the perfect arena to rejuvenate his club career.
Though cast in the shadow of their neighbors, the Netherlands, Roberto Martinez intends to add another magnanimous statistic to Belgium’s resume. With most of Belgium’s players rising through the ranks since 2014, Qatar 2022 will be their last gasp for glory.
Perhaps, the third time’s the charm for ‘Les Diables Rouges.’
PHOTO: Joris Verwijst/BSR Agency/Getty Images
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