Picking the Best Belgium XI of Players Not at the World Cup
The definitive squads have been announced, and preparations for the World Cup in Brazil are in full swing. Some players, however, are sitting at home right now, wondering why they're missing out on the biggest tournament in football.
Here, we forge an XI out of Belgian players who will not be at the World Cup. Although injured players can be included, none of the selected players is retired.
Some attention has been paid to tactical coherence, but nonetheless, a rather attacking XI has made the cut.
Goalkeeper: Koen Casteels
After breaking his shin in a Hoffenheim match in April, Koen Casteels' inclusion had been doubtful for a while. But last week it became official: The goalkeeper would not be there in Brazil. He simply wouldn't be fit in time.
Zulte Waregem's Sammy Bossut will take Casteel's place as the Rode Duivels' third goalkeeper.
Defender: Thomas Meunier
Because Belgium's usual right-back, Toby Alderweireld, normally plays as a centre-back for his club, Atletico Madrid, manager Marc Wilmots seemed to look for a more natural full-back as back-up.
Wilmots found this natural full-back in Anderlecht's Anthony Vanden Borre, and consequently, Club Brugge's right-back, Thomas Meunier, was left out of the squad—even though it looked like a very close call until the last moment.
Defender: Guillaume Gillet
Another candidate for reserve right-back was Anderlecht's Guillaume Gillet. Despite his 20 appearances for the Rode Duivels, however, Gillet was left out in favour of Vanden Borre, who is arguably a slightly more attacking player.
Defender: Sebastian Pocognoli
As with the right-back position, it would have made sense if Wilmots had picked a natural left-back as a stand-in for Jan Vertonghen, who, like Alderweireld, is actually a centre-back.
Hannover 96's Sebastien Pocognoli would have been the prime candidate for the job. Ultimately, however, he was left out of the squad, leaving the Rode Duivels without any natural left-backs at all.
Midfielder: Timmy Simons
For a long time, it seemed like Belgium veteran Timmy Simons would get to serve as an experienced counterweight to the youthfulness of the Rode Duivels' squad.
In the end, Wilmots chose Axel Witsel and Steven Defour as defensive midfielders, two players who are relatively experienced for their age (25 and 26, respectively).
Being omitted must have come as a shock to the 37-year-old Simons, who played a major role in Belgium's setup during the Rode Duivels' qualifying campaign.
Midfielder: Radja Nainggolan
Anyone not familiar with Wilmots' recent selection policy might have been shocked to see that Radja Nainggolan was not part of Belgium's World Cup squad.
The defensive midfielder, who has had an excellent season at AS Roma, just doesn't seem to fit in Wilmots' tactical plans.
While most managers would probably be happy to include him, Nainggolan has both Axel Witsel and Steven Defour ahead of him in the national team.
Attacking Midfielder: Zakaria Bakkali
No one would have been surprised to see wonderkid Zakaria Bakkali in Belgium's squad full of youngsters. Nonetheless, the attacking midfielder and forward has only made one appearance for the Rode Duivels.
Perhaps Manchester United youngster Adnan Januzaj, who clearly has more big-league experience, was given the nod ahead of Bakkali. In any case, expect the 18-year-old to be there during Euro 2016 or possibly the World Cup in 2018.
Attacker: Christian Benteke
During much of Belgium's qualifying campaign, Aston Villa's Christian Benteke was Wilmots' first-choice striker.
But in April, disaster struck. Benteke suffered a heavy injury in training, and his World Cup dreams were shattered.
Although Belgium had some back-up options waiting on the sidelines, Benteke was a striker almost any team would have loved to have in the first XI. His presence will be missed.
Attacker: Ilombe Mboyo
When news transpired that Christian Benteke would miss the World Cup, it immediately became apparent that Romelu Lukaku would become Belgium's new first-choice striker.
Consequently, a new substitute striker would have to be picked. Amongst the candidates was Ilombe Mboyo.
Making Mboyo a victim of the competition in his position, Wilmots eventually went for Lille's Divock Origi. Mboyo will have to wait a while longer for his chance.
Attacker: Michy Batshuayi
With a squad full of youngsters, why not give a wonderkid the chance to replace the injured Benteke?
Michy Batshuayi, a 20-year-old who is generally regarded as one of Belgium's most talented young strikers, seemed like the ideal man to function as Lukaku's stand-in.
Being there during a World Cup would have given Batshuayi the chance to experience the pressure of a major international tournament. Seeing as there's a good chance Batshuayi will one day play a prominent role for the Rode Duivels, this experience would have been fruitful for both player and country.
Attacker: Jelle Vossen
A very logical replacement for Benteke would have been Jelle Vossen. The Genk striker, who has already made 12 appearances for the Belgian national team, seemed like a clear part of Wilmots' plans during the Rode Duivels' qualifying campaign.
Vossen has had a frustrating season, however, and now Wilmots' opinion seems to have changed. The Belgium boss will give Origi a chance instead of Vossen.
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