5 Things Belgium Must Do to Ensure a Successful World Cup in Brazil
Having raised what seems like a "Golden Generation" in recent years, Belgium have been singled out by various pundits as one of the possible dark horses for the World Cup in Brazil this summer.
And indeed, with highly rated players such as Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne and Vincent Kompany, the Rode Duivels truly look like a force to be reckoned with.
Shortly before the World Cup finally starts, we take a look at the five things Belgium must do to ensure success at the World Cup.
Midfield Must Be Fluid but Disciplined
During Belgium's latest friendly, against Luxemburg, Belgium lined up in what seemed like a 4-3-3 formation. Looked at from a different perspective, it could also be 4-5-1, with Axel Witsel, Marouane Fellaini, Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Kevin Mirallas all operating as part of a fluid midfield.
At various moments, De Bruyne could be seen roaming from his position as central playmaker, as Hazard or Mirallas cut inside. Fellaini would then bomb forward to serve as an attacking midfielder.
While this sort of fluid setup could offer an amazing attacking threat, it could also leave Belgium's defence vulnerable. Will the attacking midfielders track back to mark their direct opponent, for example?
Kompany and Vermaelen Must Form a Solid Defence
While Thomas Vermaelen and captain Vincent Kompany have both proven that they are excellent defenders, both have shown themselves to be vulnerable sometimes as well. Often, this vulnerability is exposed in situations where it doesn't have to be.
In the match against Luxemburg, Kompany was at one point caught out by a hard-pressing Luxemburg. As a consequence, Luxemburg's Joachim almost scored his second goal of the evening.
Moments like these are not very common with Kompany and Vermaelen, but they're not allowed at all if Belgium wants to be successful during the World Cup.
Lukaku Must Make Fans Forget About Benteke
When it became apparent that manager Marc Wilmots' regular first-choice striker Christian Benteke would definitely miss the World Cup because of injury, it also became clear that Romelu Lukaku would be the one to replace the Aston Villa striker.
Lukaku, who spent last season on loan at Everton, will be looked at to score goals and provide link-up opportunities for attacking midfielders and wingers such as Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard.
Lukaku will no doubt be relishing the chance to prove that he is up for it, especially considering the fact that his future at Chelsea seems to be in doubt at the moment.
With Mourinho watching, will Lukaku make Belgium's fans forget about the injured Benteke?
Hazard Must Shine
Most truly successful World Cup teams have partly relied on a star player to make things happen for them, especially up front.
In 1974, the Duch team that created "Total Football" had Johan Cruyff. In 1986, Argentina had Diego Maradona. In 1998, the French had Zinedine Zidane.
If Belgium wants to be successful in Brazil, then they'll likely need a star player as well: A man who, by sheer ability, can inspire the rest of the team to become great as well.
A likely candidate for that role would be Eden Hazard, who is arguably the Rode Duivels' best player up front.
Will Hazard truly become great during the World Cup in Brazil?
Squad Must Reach Maturity
Having come through the ranks of the Belgian national youth teams together, today's "Golden Generation" of Belgian footballers have played together for a long time.
Now mostly playing in the Premier League, this group of relatively young players has often been regarded as "wonder kids": players who would in the future become stars.
But with the World Cup coming up, their time to shine is now. If Belgium want to be successful in Brazil, these "wonder kids" need to step up and reach the next level of maturity.
Only then can they truly fulfil all the potential they are deemed to have.