Christian Benteke’s season-ending injury comes as a massive blow to World Cup dark-horse Belgium, although the Diables Rouges should still have the depth to overcome his absence and advance from a winnable Group H.
The Aston Villa striker has torn his Achilles, according to Het Laatste Nieuws correspondent Kristof Terreur via his Twitter account, and on Thursday the Premier League club confirmed he would be facing at least six months on the sidelines after undergoing surgery.
Benteke, who has scored six goals for Belgium in 18 appearances, would have played a prominent role for his country in Brazil, and his loss will leave manager Marc Wilmots with a significant hole to fill just over two months ahead of his side’s opener against Algeria.
The 23-year-old had started a recent friendly against Ivory Coast, and after returning from a series of knee and groin problems, he looked a contender for the centre-forward position in Wilmots’ 4-2-3-1 formation, along with Romelu Lukaku.
The job is now Lukaku’s to lose, and while he hasn’t scored an international goal since October, his brace in a crucial showdown with qualification rivals Croatia lifted Belgium to a seeded berth in December’s World Cup draw.
It’s beyond the Everton forward that questions arise.
Benteke and Lukaku were the only strikers called into the Belgium squad in March, so a fresh face will have to be introduced before the team arrives in Belo Horizonte.
To that end, Michy Batshuayi would seem to be the hot favourite.
The 20-year-old is the Belgian league’s top goalscorer and helped Standard Liege to top spot on the preliminary table. On Sunday, his Standard Liege outfit beat Anderlecht 1-0 to kick off the play-off round, and he has previously been linked to Premier League clubs Arsenal and Everton, according to the Express.
But he has a history of bad behaviour and just last month was exiled from the Under-21 squad for having girls in his hotel room ahead of a match against Cyprus, as reported by ESPN FC’s Michael Yokhin.
Still, his talent is undeniable, and as an attacker he is rather more versatile than Benteke, albeit not as bullish.
A shifty forward who can also operate as a winger, Batshuayi would have been a useful addition to the Belgium set-up even if Benteke had never got injured, but the current circumstances will almost certainly necessitate his call-up.
Belgium are poorer for Benteke’s absence, but they’re hardly defeated.
There is still plenty of firepower available to Wilmots, who will still fancy progression out of a group that also includes Russia and South Korea.