It seems Belgium camp are in a pretty confident mood ahead of their round of 16 knockout clash against Hungary on Sunday. They should be. After losing to Italy 2-0 in their opening game, Marc Wilmots’ side bounced back strongly to progress from the group, winning their next two matches against Ireland and Sweden.
There is a lot of expectations from this Belgium side. Wilmots is lucky to have assembled a team that has world class players in every position. Put simply, this is Belgium’s “golden generation” but there is a feeling that Wilmots hasn’t been able to get the best out of these players. There is always a sense of frustration with this Belgium side, a feeling that top talents are being wasted under Wilmots’ leadership.
There is certainly no dearth of quality in the team but Belgium’s main problem is they hardly know how to play as a unit. A lion share of the blame goes to the manager who still doesn’t know what the best combination for his team is and what the best positions for his key players are.
Wilmots and the Belgian press have a troubled relationship. He was one of the best players to have played for Belgium, and he still carries himself with an arrogant personality of being the leading player.
“I would rather play against England and Spain than versus Hungary,” Wilmots said on Friday. “We would have nothing to lose against those teams. The press acts like the game against Hungary will be a walkover.”
The week also saw Belgium players commenting on their club futures, with Courtois, Romelu Lukaku and Radja Nainggolan speaking freely on their future moves. Belgium PR group were pretty relaxed about it, certainly not an ideal way to prepare ahead of a crunch knockout game.
Lukaku needs to make a strong statement in Euro 2016. The Everton striker has enjoyed a great 2015/16 season but has revealed openly that he doesn’t want to stay at the club beyond the summer.
He looked jaded, disinterested, and rusty in Belgium’s opening match against Italy, but did make a strong comeback against Ireland with a finely taken brace. With Kevin de Bruyne, operating as no 10 linking well with him and Eden Hazard showing glimpses of returning to form, Lukaku will get plenty of scoring chances to add to his goal tally. It’s time for him to step up to the plate and lead the attacking line with authority.