Time is right for Belgium to make a statement at Euro 2016


Romelu Lukaku is entering Euro 2016 on a cold streak, but he has the quality to lead Belgium to Euro 2016 glory. (Amel Emric/AP)

Belgium has been touted as a sleeping giant for many years. Now that most of their players are hitting their prime years, this is the time for the Red Devils to claim their first-ever trophy at Euro 2016. It won’t be easy with the likes of France, Germany and Spain in the field, but the Belgians have the talent to make history.

Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), Jean-Francois Gillet (Catania).
Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham), Laurent Ciman (Montreal Impact), Jason Denayer (Manchester City), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham), Christian Kabasele (Genk), Jordan Lukaku (Oostende), Thomas Meunier (Club Brugge), Thomas Vermaelen (Barcelona).
Midfielders: Marouane Fellaini (Manhcester United), Radja Nainggolan (Roma), Axel Witsel (Zenit), Mousa Dembele (Tottenham), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Dries Mertens (Napoli).
Forwards: Romelu Lukaku (Everton), Christian Benteke (Liverpool), Divock Origi (Liverpool), Yannick Ferreira Carrasco (Atletico Madrid), Michy Batshuayi (Marseille).

There have been questions asked of Marc Wilmots and whether he is the right manager to lead this Belgian side. However, he has only lost two competitive games in charge of the national team. He also took Belgium to the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals. It was their deepest run at the tournament since 1986, when it finished in fourth place.

4-3-3 – (GK) Courtois – (D) Vertonghen, Denayer, Ciman, Alderweireld – (M) Nainggolan, Mertens, Witsel – (F) De Bruyne, Lukaku, Hazard

MORE ON EURO 2016: Sportsnet has you covered with in-depth coverage of Euro 2016 in France, which runs from June 10 to July 10.

Match schedule || Group standings || Live scoreboard || Roster lists
Profiles: All 24 teams || History of Euro || Top 10 moments in Euro history

June 13: vs. Italy in Lyon
June 18: vs. Ireland in Bordeaux
June 22: vs. Sweden in Nice

It wasn’t a totally smooth ride through qualifying for Belgium, but it won Group B with 23 points despite its failure to beat Wales in either match against the British side.

Belgium has tons of depth on the wings and at centre forward. Romelu Lukaku is the projected starting No. 9, but Wilmots also called up Divock Origi, Christian Benteke and Michy Batshuayi, who has been excellent for Marseille. Meanwhile, Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Yannick Carrasco, who scored in the Champions League final, highlight the wide players.

Wilmots only called up four midfielders, so if any of them get hurt or suspended, he’ll have a big conundrum. Injuries to captain Vincent Kompany, Nicolas Lombaerts and Dedryck Boyata have thinned out Belgium’s centre back depth, too. Tottenham central defenders Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen may have to start at full back, so the back line could be the Belgians’ weak link.

Jason Denayer: There will only be one defender assured of his position based on the injuries, and that is Denayer starting at centre back. He has been immense in loan spells with Celtic and Galatasaray, exuding calmness under pressure. His lack of errors makes it hard to believe that he’ll be 21 in less than a month’s time. If the Manchester City defender has a strong showing at Euro 2016, he might start the Premier League season with his parent club.

Radja Nainggolan: The Roma midfielder has been heavily linked to Chelsea over the past few weeks. The 28-year-old is a brilliant box-to-box midfielder who is tipped to start in the heart of Belgium’s midfield. Look for Nainggolan to break up onrushing attacks before sprinting forward on the counter whenever possible.

Romelu Lukaku: Belgium’s commanding No. 9 finished the Premier League season with 18 league goals in 37 appearances despite Everton’s woeful campaign. However, Lukaku has not scored since March 12 against Chelsea in the FA Cup quarterfinals. The 23-year-old wants to play for a Champions League club, but he’ll have to prove that he’s ready for the big time at Euro 2016.

How will the defence line up on June 13? Denayer should start centrally for Belgium, but other than the youngster, no one else is assured of a place. Alderweireld and Vertonghen usually start out wide for the national team, so reigning MLS defender of the year Laurent Ciman may be included in the lineup.

Belgium is one of the favourites to win the tournament, but it could draw a team like Germany in the quarterfinals. If that is the case, it could prove to be a near-impossible task for Wilmots’ side.


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