World number three team Belgium will start their World Cup 2018 campaign in Group G, and are expected to qualify despite facing a showdown with England for top spot. Tunisia and debutants Panama are their other two group stage opponents.
Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
Belgium were one of the first teams to qualify for the World Cup after a dominant campaign in Group H of the European section – scoring 43 goals in their ten games, of which they won nine and drew one.
The Belgians scored four or more goals on six occasions, including twice against both Bosnia and Gibraltar, with Romelu Lukaku finishing the campaign as top scorer in Group H with 11 in total. Indeed, it was Lukaku who scored the winner in Greece in a 2-1 win that sealed Belgium’s progress to the World Cup finals with two games to spare.
Belgium ended a 12-year World Cup absence in Brazil last time out by reaching the quarter-finals – their best performance since finishing fourth in 1986. Belgium won against Algeria, Russia and South Korea in the group stages, before needing extra time to beat the USA in the last-16.
Their World Cup journey ended in the last-eight, however, when they lost to eventual finalists Argentina – the second consecutive time they had been knocked out by South American opposition, after Brazil accounted for them in their previous tournament in 2002.
Vincent Kompany is in Belgium’s 23-man squad for the World Cup despite an injury worry when he limped off with a groin issue against Portugal. Manchester City’s title-winning captain is a doubt for the tournament, however, with Roberto Martinez prepared to wait until the day before the Panama match (the deadline for a replacement) to make a decision over Kompany’s fitness. Steven Defour has already been ruled out by injury, though Michy Batshuayi and Nacer Chadli are back despite their own fitness concerns. Radja Nainggolan was a shock omission from the Belgian squad – promptly retiring from international football when the decision was confirmed – while Christian Benteke’s poor domestic form has cost him his place in the squad too.
Belgium have quality throughout the team, but perhaps the stand-out two are their playmakers – Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne. Hazard has scored more than 20 international goals now, while De Bruyne will head to the World Cup having been Manchester City’s star man in their stunning, record-breaking Premier League season. Up front, meanwhile, the Red Devils have Romelu Lukaku, who – despite his critics – scored more goals in all competitions than in any other season in his career.
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Belgium were in fine goalscoring form during World Cup qualifying, finishing their campaign with a 4-3 win against Bosnia and a 4-0 thrashing of Cyprus. Their goalscoring continued in a 3-3 draw with Mexico that followed, while they beat Japan 1-0 in their other friendly in November. The Red Devils played just once in March, but scored four without reply to beat Saudi Arabia, before a goalless draw with Portugal kicked off their pre-World Cup action. They hit seven goals in their next two games though – beating Egypt 3-0 and Costa Rica 4-1 – to finalise their World Cup preparations in style.
|1||Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea)||26||58 caps||0 goals|
|12||Simon Mignolet (Liverpool)||30||21 caps||0 goals|
|13||Koen Casteels (VfL Wolfsburg)||25||0 caps||0 goals|
|2||Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham Hotspur)||29||77 caps||3 goals|
|3||Thomas Vermaelen (Barcelona)||32||66 caps||1 goal|
|4||Vincent Kompany (Manchester City)||32||77 caps||4 goal|
|5||Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham Hotspur)||31||102 caps||8 goals|
|15||Thomas Meunier (Paris Saint Germain)||26||25 caps||5 goals|
|20||Dedryck Boyata (Celtic)||27||7 caps||0 goals|
|6||Axel Witsel (Tianjin Quanjian)||29||90 caps||9 goals|
|7||Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City)||26||62 caps||14 goals|
|8||Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United)||30||82 caps||17 goals|
|11||Yannick Carrasco (Dalian Yifang)||24||26 caps||5 goals|
|17||Youri Tielemans (Monaco)||21||9 caps||0 goals|
|18||Adnan Januzaj (Real Sociedad)||23||8 caps||0 goals|
|19||Mousa Dembele (Tottenham Hotspur)||30||76 caps||5 goals|
|22||Nacer Chadli (West Brom)||28||45 caps||5 goals|
|23||Leander Dendoncker (Anderlecht)||23||5 caps||0 goals|
|9||Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United)||25||69 caps||36 goals|
|10||Eden Hazard (Chelsea)||27||86 caps||22 goals|
|14||Dries Mertens (Napoli)||31||69 caps||14 goals|
|16||Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Monchengladbach)||25||11 caps||1 goal|
|21||Michy Batshuayi (Borussia Dortmund)||24||16 caps||7 goals|
Belgium are favourites to top Group G, and it is easy to see why. The Red Devils should see off Panama and Tunisia comfortably, meaning it is only realistically England – their final opponents – who stand between the Red Devils and top spot. Unsurprisingly they are just 1/10 with Bet365 to reach the second round.
The likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and the Belgian defence have repeatedly proved themselves against their English counterparts, with the Red Devils packed with Premier League quality. Consequently, Belgium are 5/6 with Bet365 to get the better of the English and top Group H.
Furthermore, a group forecast of Belgium to finish first and England to finish second at 11/8 with Bet365 looks a good bet. With neither Panama or Tunisia expected to challenge the two European teams, either combination of them getting through should represent a winning bet.
Regardless of the order, however, Belgium are likely to face either Poland or Colombia in the second round. That could pit their excellent defence against Robert Lewandowski or Radamel Falcao respectively, but it will be further up the pitch where they are well capable of making an impact.
Belgium are therefore only 8/13 to reach the quarter-finals, but that is where the luck of the draw runs out. Win Group G, and they will likely be playing Brazil. Finish second and its Germany. Belgium will need a huge slice of luck if they are to avoid the World Cup co-favourites, and so 2/1 with Bet365 on them departing at the quarter-final stage is fair enough.
Should Belgium get that far, however, considering their goalscoring prowess in qualifying and their group-stage fixtures against Tunisia and Panama, Romelu Lukaku is worth a punt at 20/1 with Ladbrokes to finish as top scorer.
Belgium have the potential to be tournament dark horses, and can certainly beat England to finish top of Group G. Like England, however, they will likely have to face either Germany or Brazil if they reach the quarter-finals regardless of the result there – and the two tournament co-favourites can stop Roberto Martinez’s side.
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Complete list of 32 teams participating in World Cup 2018 and their Group Predictions