The Red Devils, Belgium’s national football team are causing quite a stir. Not just in Belgium but across the globe. And why wouldn’t they? They’re a team filled to the brim with young exciting talent and there might yet be more the come with players like Manchester United’s Adnan Januzaj, PSV Eindhoven’s Zakaria Bakkali and Monaco’s Ferreira-Carrasco. The most optimistic football fans are even saying that they have a shot at winning the World Cup in Brazil. But Marc Wilmots’ side are nothing more than outsiders for the title, for a couple of reasons.
Belgium’s other big weakness is their inexperience at the highest levels of football. While most players fighting for the titles in the national club competitions, the main strikers Lukaku and Benteke are yet to taste a title challenge in a big competition and they have never played in the Champions or Europa League. And because Belgium has not qualified for a big tournament since the World Cup in Japan and Korea in 2002, barely any players of the current selection have been to a World or European Cup. Only Timmy Simons and Daniel Van Buyten have that kind of experience but both are getting a bit too old to be in the starting eleven for an entire tournament at the highest level.
This is a luxury problem. Other countries wish they had this kind of choice in wingers. Belgium has seven players who excel in the wide role that have been called up for the national team recently: Chadli, Hazard, De Bruyne, Mertens, Bakkali, Mirallas and Lestienne. And Ferreira-Carrasco and Januzaj are also wide men, the latter might not even join the Belgian selection because of the fierce competition for those spots. That same competition had Bakkali doubting for a long while.
All this doesn’t make the Belgian side any less talented and Wilmots seems to be creating a coherent group where players can enjoy their football. But against the likes of Spain and Germany, for whom qualifying is a formality rather than an accomplishment, the Red Devils will really struggle.