Predicting the Belgium Squad 40 Days from the 2014 World Cup
The Belgians are going to Brazil this summer, and with an exciting mixture of big league experience and young talent, manager Marc Wilmots has a fine pool of players to pick his squad from.
Some players, like Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany, can be sure of their spot—as long as they remain injury free. Other players, like recent addition Adnan Januzaj, will have to wait and see when the boss makes the official announcement.
Nonetheless, it's possible to predict at least the outlines of the squad. With only 40 days to go until the World Cup, we take a look at the 23 players Wilmots will most likely include.
His club side Atletico Madrid have a clear chance of knocking Real Madrid and Barcelona off their La Liga thrones and are in the final of the Champions League. It's safe to say that the young and talented goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is having a fantastic season.
He's been De Rode Duivels' first goalkeeper since Wilmots took up his position in 2012, and it's unlikely things will be different in Brazil.
There aren't many countries that can claim they have a world-class reserve 'keeper. With Liverpool goalie Simon Mignolet on the bench, Belgium can.
Although not entirely satisfied with his reserve role in the Belgian team, it's more than likely Mignolet will swallow his pride in order to go to Brazil.
Should Courtois get injured or suspended, Belgium won't have much to worry about.
With Koen Casteels out with a broken shin, Wilmots will most likely go for Anderlecht goalie Silvio Proto as third goalkeeper.
Initially, there were some concerns about Proto's willingness to sit on the bench, but the 30-year-old has since then come out to state he would accept such a role.
There's not a single doubt about Belgium's rock at the back. As captain of the Rode Duivels, he plays whenever he's fit.
As Manchester City captain, Premier League veteran and Champions League player, he's arguably the biggest name on Belgium's team sheet.
Daniel Van Buyten
He's not playing many matches for Bayern Munich at the moment, but nonetheless Daniel van Buyten will be one of the first defenders manager Marc Wilmots will decide to bring along to Brazil.
As one of the older players the Rode Duivels have at their disposal, Van Buyten will provide some much-needed experience in a group full of up-and-coming youngsters. In that regard, you'd be a fool not to pick the Bayern Munich man.
If—and it's a big if—he's fit in the summer, injury-plagued Arsenal defender Thomas Vermaelen will likely be part of the Rode Duivels' defence, if not as a part of the first XI, then surely as a reserve.
Even though there's uncertainty about his future at Arsenal, Vermaelen will add big-league experience to Belgium's squad full of youngsters. Having captained Arsenal, the defender will also bring leadership and confidence.
Even though he started his career as a central defender at Ajax, Jan Vertonghen has proven to be a capable left-back as well, both in the national team and at Tottenham Hotspur.
Still, the left-back position is not Vertonghen's specialty. With big names like Kompany in the centre, and with the lack of options for both full-back positions, though, Vertonghen will simply have to do.
FC Zenit defender Nicolas Lombaerts will almost certainly be part of the Rode Duivels squad. With Thomas Vermaelen's questionable fitness and the busy season Vincent Kompany had, it's not unlikely that he'll get some playing time, too.
Along with defenders such as Daniel van Buyten, Lombaerts' presence in the squad provides some much-needed security in case of injury or suspension.
After his move from Ajax to Atletico Madrid, Toby Alderweireld has spent more time on the bench than on the pitch. Nonetheless, manager Marco Wilmots will certainly pick the defender, if only because of a lack of options.
Much like the left-back position, there aren't many Belgian players who can play in the right-back position.
Alderweireld—like Vertonghen not a natural full-back—is one of the few. With the likes of Vincent Kompany and Daniel van Buyten in central positions then, Alderweireld will have to compete with Anderlecht's Anthony Vanden Borre for a place in the Rode Duivels' starting XI.
Anthony Vanden Borre
Even though Toby Alderweireld was Wilmots' first choice during the qualifiers, Anderlecht player Anthony Vanden Borre will provide some much-needed depth at the right-back position.
With Vanden Borre in the squad, Alderweireld can even be moved to the centre, although the likes of Van Buyten and Vermaelen provide heavy competition in that part of the Belgian defence.
Manager Marc Wilmots will most likely hold on to Jan Vertonghen at left-back, but young Hannover 96 defender Sebastien Pocognoli will almost certainly serve as the Spurs man's stand-in.
For years now, Axel Witsel has been a vital part of the midfield trio manager Marc Wilmots plays in most matches, and there's no reason to believe anything will be different in Brazil.
As a hard-working midfielder, Witsel likes to play a role in the buildup. At the same time, he never neglects his defensive duties. In this capacity, the Zenit player is an almost irreplaceable team player.
After a disastrous first season at Manchester United, Marouane Fellaini's reputation has taken a knock in the eyes of most people. But perhaps not in the eyes of Marc Wilmots. In Belgium's last friendly, against Ivory Coast, Fellaini appeared as a starter as usual.
Possibly, the World Cup will provide Fellaini with the perfect opportunity to revive his career at United.
With another season of Premier League experience under his belt, Wilmots would be foolish not to take Mousa Dembele along to Brazil.
His spot in the Rode Duivels' starting XI, however, is anything but certain. Dembele has playmakers such as Kevin de Bruyne to compete with, and even Eden Hazard has played in the centre of midfield for Belgium.
Kevin De Bruyne
Kevin De Bruyne did not get much playing time at Chelsea, but thanks to his move to Wolfsburg last january—which saw him become the German side's most expensive transfer ever—he is now a regular starter for his team.
With almost half a season's worth of Bundesliga experience under his belt, Wilmots even picked the attacking midfielder ahead of Mousa Dembele during Belgium's latest friendly against Ivory Coast.
There's a lot of raw talent in the Belgium squad. Players such as Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku might one day reach the absolute top. Arguably, a player like Eden Hazard is already there.
But raw talent alone doesn't win you prizes. For this reason, there's a good chance Wilmots will pick veteran international Timmy Simons ahead of Radja Nainggolan—who also belongs in the "raw talent" category.
However, Simons' place is anything but certain. Should Nainggolan continue to impress for AS Roma, Wilmots might just give him the nod.
Ever since he officially declared for Belgium in 2011, Nacer Chadli has been part of the Rode Duivels' squad on a regular basis, even though the winger hasn't always convinced for Spurs, where he moved in the summer of 2013.
Much like his Belgian team-mate Marouane Fellaini, Chadli will relish the chance to leave the pressures of the Premier League behind for a moment and prove his worth in Brazil.
Dries Mertens moved from PSV to Napoli in the summer of 2013, and while he doesn't start every game for the Serie A side, the winger hasn't disappointed. Playing for Belgium, the small but skilful winger impressed during the Rode Duivels' recent friendly against Ivory Coast.
Together with Eden Hazard, Mertens will be probably be one of the first attackers manager Marc Wilmots picks.
After his breakthrough season at Chelsea, there's no doubt Eden Hazard will play an important role for the Rode Duivels in Brazil. As one of the team's main creative outlets, manager Marc Wilmots will expect him to carry the team.
Criticism coming from Wilmots must be taken with a pinch of salt, as that's likely to be part of a ploy to motivate the Chelsea player. Eden Hazard is simply one of Belgium's best players.
Together with the likes of Jan Vertonghen and Mousa Dembele, Kevin Mirallas is part of the golden generation of Belgian players currently making an impact in the Premier League.
With 42 appearances already under his belt, the Everton player is a major part of manager Marc Wilmots' plans.
At the moment, Mirallas is recovering from injury, but it's almost certain he'll be fit in time for the World Cup.
Only a couple of months ago, it seemed obvious Christian Benteke would be there during the World Cup. It even looked like he would be Wilmots' first-choice striker during the tournament.
But in early April, disaster struck. Benteke injured his achilles, and it was confirmed the striker would be out for about eight months. After a good season on loan at Everton, Romelu Lukaku is Benteke's obvious replacement.
At the moment, a return to Chelsea seems unlikely for Lukaku, and he is yet to find a new club. Surely, the striker will relish the chance to show the world what he's worth.
With Christian Benteke definitively out of the running, Romelu Lukaku will need a stand-in.
This role will most likely be played by Jelle Vossen. Under normal circumstances, the young KRC Gent attacker should not expect too much playing time, but being there in Brazil will be an educative experience nonetheless.
When all is said and done, there's still a wild card manager Marc Wilmots can use. That wild card is called Adnan Januzaj.
Januzaj recently officially declared for Belgium, and while some people don't seem to think a World Cup selection would be fair, the Manchester United youngster stands every chance of making the cut.
Most managers would be more than happy to accommodate a player such as Januzaj. But with the Rode Duivels' squad already overflowing with talent, will Wilmots?