5 Things for Belgium to Take out of Their World Cup Group-Stage Games
After winning all three of their group matches, Belgium have qualified for the round of 16 with an impressive tally of nine points.
The group stage hasn't been all positive, though. In all three of their matches, the Rode Duivels seemed to have trouble finding the net, and manager Marc Wilmots was forced to make substitutions and tweak his tactics to turn things around.
Consequently, Belgium fans might have conflicting feelings about their team's efforts so far. Despite first-round success, it's still not clear how the Rode Duivels would stack up against the world's best players.
Here, we take a look at five things the Belgians can take into the next round, positive and negative.
Depth and Character
Despite the team's difficulties, the Rode Duivels can certainly feel proud of the depth and character they have shown in their matches against Algeria, Russia and South Korea.
Against Algeria, Belgium fell behind in the first half. In the second half, substitutes Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens scored and changed the game around. The Rode Duivels won 2-1.
In the match against Russia, things seemed to be heading for a 0-0 draw. But shortly before the final whistle, substitute Divock Origi scored the winning goal. Belgium won 1-0.
Against South Korea, another 0-0 draw seemed on the cards. But then, left-back Jan Vertonghen tapped in a deflected effort from Origi: 1-0.
It takes character to keep trying until the very end, and Belgium have shown they have plenty.
Belgium might have had some trouble going forward, but at the back, they have proved to be solid and disciplined.
The Rode Duivels only conceded once, and that was from a penalty, in the opening match against Algeria.
Of course, Jan Vertonghen should not have made the foul that led to the spot-kick, but apart from that, the young defender has shown himself to be more than capable of handling the pressures of the World Cup.
Going into the knockout stage, Belgium's midfielders and attackers can feel secure. A top-quality defence is backing them up.
Hazard Must Step Up
That being said, there are some negatives to take from Belgium's first three matches as well. Wilmots would do well to address these problems, or the Rode Duivels could be found out when they face stronger opposition in the knockout phase.
Perhaps most important of all, Eden Hazard, who is yet to score his first World Cup goal, must step up and improve his performances.
So far, Hazard has failed to influence matches as much as was expected of him. Especially considering the solid season he has had at Chelsea, the winger and attacking midfielder should have done more.
In the group stage, other players have scored the goals Hazard was expected to score, but in the next round, the Rode Duivels will need the Chelsea man to step up.
Who to Play Up Front?
When the news broke that Aston Villa and Belgium striker Christian Benteke had suffered an injury that ruled him out of the World Cup, it immediately became clear that Romelu Lukaku would get his chance to lead the Rode Duivels' front line.
But despite being part of the first XI during Belgium's preparatory campaign, the striker failed to impress during the Rode Duivels' first two matches in Brazil. Having failed to score a single goal, he was even left on the bench for the match against South Korea.
So far, Wilmots has experimented with Divock Origi and Kevin Mirallas in Lukaku's place, two very different players.
Ahead of Belgium's next match, Wilmots will have to consider what it is that the Rode Duivels need up front. Do they need an attacking midfielder like Mirallas to operate as a false nine? Or would it be better to utilise the pace of Origi?
Ahead of the World Cup, critics would sometimes question the Belgian players' experience at the highest level.
It's true, a lot of Belgium's players are talented but very young, and the World Cup in Brazil is their first international tournament.
Now that the tournament has started, however, these players have shown themselves able to play a very mature style of football.
What's more, the Rode Duivels have responded well to setbacks, constantly coming up with solutions to the problems they faced on the pitch.
Three matches and nine points on, Belgium have learned some valuable lessons, and while they're no veterans yet, they are no longer as green as they were ahead of the tournament.
Surely, that will only help them in the knockout stage of the tournament.
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