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Belgium’s so-called ‘Golden Generation’ begin a final stab at fulfilling their potential with an opening group game against Canada on Wednesday evening.
Almost a third of Roberto Martinez’s squad – which is the oldest of any European nation at this year’s World Cup – has been playing together for the best part of a decade. However, they have never progressed beyond the semi-final of a major competition.
Here’s the XI Martinez may deploy for their group opener.
GK: Thibaut Courtois – Even though he was voted the world’s best goalkeeper this year, Courtois couldn’t help but lament that it is “impossible” for a shot-stopper to win the Ballon d’Or.
CB: Leander Dendoncker – The versatile midfielder is vying for a spot with Leicester City’s Wout Faes. The summer addition to the Foxes has been transformative at the King Power Stadium this season but is yet to start a match for Belgium.
CB: Toby Alderweireld – The former Tottenham centre-back could only last a year and 29 games in the Qatari Stars League with Al-Duhail before joining his hometown club Royal Antwerp last summer.
CB: Jan Vertonghen – The record caps holder in a squad which contains no fewer than six centurions.
RWB: Thomas Meunier – Three years before Meunier made his national team debut, he was working as a postman. Can the Borussia Dortmund wing-back put his stamp on the tournament? (It took a lot of willpower to avoid mentioning his propensity (or lack thereof) to deliver.)
CM: Axel Witsel – At 33, Witsel hasn’t missed a competitive game for club or country this season which serves as a welcome change from the five-month injury layoff he had ahead of Euro 2020.
CM: Youri Tielemans – The judo blue belt is one of the younger squad members at 25 but this is his tenth season of senior football.
LWB: Yannick Carrasco – The Atletico Madrid wide man celebrated his goal in the 2016 Champions League final by running to the touchline and kissing his girlfriend. He married Noemie Happart, who was crowned Miss Belgium three years earlier, and the pair have a son together.
RF: Kevin De Bruyne – While scouting Canada’s upcoming foes, their manager John Herdman joked: “Right now, I’m being paid to watch and take a magnifying glass to De Bruyne – what a gift that is!” Looking on from the dugout as De Bruyne tries to pick his way through Canada’s backline may not be quite as enjoyable.
LF: Eden Hazard – Finished as runner-up to Luka Modric in the race for the Golden Ball at the previous World Cup.
ST: Michy Batshuayi – Infamously thwacked a volley against the post in celebration of a goal (someone else scored) at the last World Cup only for the ball to crash off the upright and against his own head. He took the blunder in typically good spirits.
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