The Panenka

A blog dedicated to European Football, World Soccer and the Road to Russia 2018

Euro 2016 Team Preview: Belgium

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Despite being knocked out of the World Cup in the Quarter-final at the hands of Argentina, Belgium are still ranked number 2 in the FIFA World Rankings, yeah, go figure. Still, they are good value for having a right old stab at the European Championship as they harbor what is being heralded as their golden generation. Cynics might point to the declining form of Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku’s failure to score on the international stage for over 250 minutes but despite that there is still plenty for Belgium to be positive about.

How They Qualified: Belgium topped their group ahead of surprise package Wales but it took until the penultimate game for the team to secure their spot in France with a 4-1 over Andorra. A 0-0 stalemate at home to Wales followed by a 1-0 loss in Cardiff certainly raised a few eyebrows during qualification meaning they’ll need to pick up their performances if this crop of players are going to make any headway in neighboring France.

Tournament History: Runners-up 1980.

Coach: Marc Wilmots.

The former Belgium midfielder served as a senator in Belgian politics after retiring from his playing career before stepping into coaching. He took the reins for the Belgium national team in June 2012 and led the side undefeated into the 2014 World Cup. He may lack experience and often receives public criticism for it, especially from main culprit Eden Hazard. Wilmots does not shy away from these types of battles though and the fact he is still in the role is a testament to his determination.

Nicknames: Rode Duivels/Diables Rouges (Red Devils)

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Key Man: Kevin de Bruyne.

While many Euro 2016 previews will list Eded Hazard as Belgium’s main man, it is clear they haven’t watched the EPL this season. Even with De Bruyne missing a large portion of the season due to injury he has made a much more of a positive impact than Hazard. De Bruyne has an envious record in both goals and assists and has come up big in the crucial moments for Manchester City this season in the Premier League and Champions League.

One To Watch: Michy Batshuayi.

After earning his first call-up in March 2015 the striker has been in prolific form. Of Congolese heritage like fellow internationals Benteke and Lukaku, he possesses speed, a deft touch and offers a slightly different dimension to the attacking line. A combination that makes a sterling case for selection. Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino has already stated his desire to speak with Marseille over the availability of the forward in the coming transfer window.

Fixtures:

June 13, 3 p.m. vs. Italy

June 18, 9 a.m. vs. Ireland

June 22, 3 p.m. vs. Sweden

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Jean-Francois Gillett (Mechelen), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool).

Defenders: Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham Hotspur), Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham Hotspur), Thomas Vermaelen (Barcelona), Laurent Ciman (Standard Liege), Jason Denayer (Galatasaray), Thomas Meunier (Club Bruges), Jordan Lukaku (Oostende), Christian Kabasele (RC Genk).

Midfielders: Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Axel Witsel (Zenit St Petersburg), Moussa Dembele (Tottenham Hotspur), Radja Nainggolan (AS Roma),

Forwards: Michy Batshauyi (Olympique Marseille), Christian Benteke (Liverpool), Yannick Carrasco (Atletico Madrid), Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Romelu Lukaku (Everton), Dries Mertens (Napoli), Divock Origi (Liverpool).

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