Belgium have been, quite frankly, the biggest disappointment of the World Cup so far. The success of four years ago in Russia feels a very distant memory, as the players who were in their prime at that World Cup begin to enter the twilight of their careers. The side have lacked any real energy, looking laboured in their approach. With the must win game against Croatia, its time for Roberto Martinez to put sentimentality and loyalty to the old guard aside. In their place, the future of the Red Devils should be given their chance.
Prior to the tournament, we mentioned how the making of the future defence was in the squad, with Wout Faes, Arthur Theate and Zeno Debast. None of them have played a single minute of the World Cup. Instead, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen have played every minute, while Leandro Dendoncker was their partner in game one, with Timothy Castagne being used in the back three for the Morocco game. This begs the question, whether Martinez has any faith in the three other centre-backs he has in the side, given he’d rather pay Castagne out of position.
Further forward, Jeremy Doku has not played a single minute of the World Cup so far. Doku, a direct and quick player, appears to be exactly what the Red Devils are lacking. Instead, Martinez opted to bring on 35 year-old Dries Mertens against the Atlas Lions. While Doku has been recovering from an injury, if he is in the squad than surely he is fit enough to play.
In central areas, it is sad to see that Axel Witsel also looks a shadow of his former self. The combative midfielder appears to have lost a yard of pace, and often against Morocco he was guilty of slowing the play down drastically. Unfortunately, with Amadou Onana now suspended, we won’t get to see what could have been a promising midfield two of Onana and Youri Tielemans.
Martinez has also shown incredible loyalty to Eden Hazard at this tournament. Despite the former Chelsea man struggling to get playing time with Real Madrid, he has started both of Belgium’s games. However, despite a promising first game against Canada he struggled against Morocco. Clearly Hazard is, like Witsel, a shadow of the player he used to be. By no means a youth prospect, but 27 year-old Leandro Trossard has to start against Croatia. He hasn’t had a great impact off the bench, but starting and coming off the bench are very different things. Trossard has earnt the right to be in the starting XI with his performances for Brighton this season.
Martinez will more than likely opt for loyalty over wholesale change. In the build up to the tournament he was bullish on how he wanted to use the tried and tested, rather than blooding the new players. However, his future as coach of the Red Devils may well depend on this game. Failing to get out of the group will see a lot of pressure applied to the Belgian FA to end the former Wigan and Everton man’s time in charge of the national team.