FEATURE | Five conclusions from Belgium’s final Nations League matches

It was a disappointing international break for Belgium, with the side only narrowly beating Wales and losing to a weakened Netherlands side, but the two matches did tell us a lot about Roberto Martinez’s World Cup plans.

Here are five conclusions we drew from the Red Devils’ final Nationa League matches…

Zeno Debast is most likely to be the third centre-back in Qatar

A few weeks ago, Debast had never been in a Belgium squad, let alone a starting XI. Now, the 18-year-old looks likely to start at the World Cup.

Martinez started him alongside Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen in both Nations League matches, and while he wasn’t perfect, struggling against the Netherlands, he performed fairly well given it was his first time in the side and did enough to impress his manager.

Given the Spaniard chose to play him for 90 minutes in both matches, not even taking a look at other options, the Anderlecht man can fancy his chances of starting in Qatar.

Youri Tielemans could lose out to Amadou Onana

Tielemans has been a stalwart in the Belgium side for a while now, starting four out of five matches at the Euros last year and most of the matches since then, but he’s far from certain to start at the World Cup.

He played from the off against Wales but didn’t impress before being subbed off with 15 minutes left. He was then dropped for Onana for the match against the Netherlands, and the Everton man looked very good.

With him now playing at a top level every week in the Premier League, he could well take the Leicester man’s place alongside Axel Witsel.

Martinez is keeping his faith in Eden Hazard

Hazard is playing precious little for Real Madrid this season, far less than other wingers in the Belgium squad, but looks set to start at the World Cup nonetheless.

Martinez has openly said that he’s not worried that the 30-year-old isn’t playing at club level, and that proved to be the case with him starting the player in both matches.

He feels Hazard’s quality and mentality make up for his lack of match rhythm, and while that’s very much debatable with the Real Madrid not playing too well in either match and Leandro Trossrad doing well at Brighton, it doesn’t look like he’s going to change his mind.

This team needs Romelu Lukaku

It was already obvious that Lukaku was important to this side, but his importance became clearer than ever in his absence during the past two matches.

Michy Batshuayi replaced him, and while he got a goal and an assist against Wales, he was invincible against the Netherlands, offering nothing in the build-up and taking just one shot.

Lukaku is the only man in the squad that has the ability to consistently bring others into play, hold up the ball and be a guaranteed source of goals. If the Red Devils are to do well in Qatar, they’ll need him fit.

There’s a lot of work to do

Ultimately, the two matches made it abundantly clear that this side isn’t ready to go far at the World Cup in its current state.

The Netherlands were missing their two key players and played a second-string midfield for much of the game between the two, and yet Belgium never really looked like winning, let alone by three goals as they needed to.

If they don’t improve considerably by November, they’ll have trouble topping their group ahead of Croatia, let alone winning a Round of 16 clash with Spain or Germany. Martinez has a lot of work to do.

Finley Crebolder

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