Sweden vs. Belgium: 5 Things We Learned
In what was Belgium's second friendly in preparation for the World Cup in Brazil, the Red Devils beat Sweden 2-0 on Sunday.
Goals came from Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard as the Swedes, who failed to qualify for the World Cup after losing to Portugal in the qualifiers' playoffs, were brushed aside.
To Belgium's delight—or maybe their disappointment—Sweden's star player Zlatan Ibrahimovic did not make an appearance. Nonetheless, the match provided the Belgians with the opportunity to test their credentials.
Here, we take a look at five things we learned from Sweden vs. Belgium.
Not Much Threat from Tougher Opposition
In Belgium's latest friendly, which was against Luxembourg, the Red Devils faced a relatively easy opponent. Although the Luxembourgers managed to score a goal, the Belgians scored five.
While still not of the level Belgium can expect during the latter stages of the World Cup, Sweden's opposition proved to be notably tougher on Sunday. Despite Sweden's efforts, however, the Red Devils won the match convincingly.
It remains to be seen how Belgium will do against the world's best nations, but the Red Devils have shown an ability to rise up to a challenge so far.
Depth in Midfield
Against Luxembourg, Manchester United's Marouane Fellaini formed a midfield trio with Axel Witsel and Kevin de Bruyne. Against Sweden, Fellaini was replaced by Moussa Dembele.
Playing as a central midfielder, the Spurs man functioned as a running link-up man between defensive anchor Witsel and the more advanced playmaker De Bruyne.
Like Fellaini against Luxembourg, Dembele fulfilled his tasks excellently, leaving manager Marc Wilmots with some decisions to make about the exact midfield setup he'll use in Brazil.
Lack of Natural Full-Backs
Under normal circumstances, Jan Vertonghen—who is actually a natural centre-back—plays as a left-back for Belgium. Against Sweden, however, manager Marc Wilmots decided to play Thomas Vermaelen in Vertonghen's place.
On the one hand, Wilmots' decision made sense. Vermaelen's move meant that Daniel van Buyten had the chance to play in the centre of defence and regain fitness after a relatively inactive season at Bayern Munich. But seeing as Vermaelen is not a natural full-back either, the move showed Belgium's lack of depth in that position.
Relied on for width during the attacking phase of play, full-backs have become important players in the modern game. Belgium's lack of natural full-backs might turn out to be a genuine problem this summer.
Lukaku Is Focussed
He scored a hat-trick against Luxembourg, and he managed to get on the scoreboard once again against Sweden. Romelu Lukaku is obviously motivated and determined to show his worth during the World Cup in Brazil.
With Christian Benteke definitively ruled out of the World Cup, the Red Devils can rest assured they have an adequate replacement. Together with Chelsea's Eden Hazard, Lukaku can be relied upon for scoring goals.
Hazard Is Starting to Warm Up
Against Luxembourg, Eden Hazard didn't manage to get a goal in—despite Belgium scoring five times. Against Sweden, however, the Chelsea winger was one of the two players to get on the scoreboard, arousing the suspicion that he might be starting to warm up for the World Cup.
Having been kept on the bench on more than one occasion, Hazard will profit in Brazil from the fact he hasn't played an exhaustive season with Chelsea. Contrary to what's sometimes the case with star players, the attacking midfielder and winger will likely have plenty of energy left.
That's just as well, seeing as the Red Devils will be looking at Hazard for some of the goals when the tournament finally starts.