It was a bad week for everyone’s favorite World Cup sleeper pick, Belgium. The national team picked up a season-ending injury and coupled that with horrific performances from their two most important players. The World Cup is two months away and this could be a bad omen for a side looking to make a depth run.
The midsized country located in the northwestern region of continental Europe has a rich tradition of soccer, but their current golden generation is setting records at an astonishing clip and beginning to redefine success. Belgium currently sits in 12th in the FIFA World Rankings and are expected to ride their momentum to an impressive display at this year’s World Cup. But last week should act as an eye opener to how fragile World Cup dreams can fade on a week-to-week basis. Belgium lost a top striker to a torn ACL and saw a significant drop in form from their captain Vincent Kompany and main target man Romelu Lukaku.
Belgium and Manchester City center back Kompany has struggled mightily this year with his decision-making and injuries, and his poor form was highlighted in City’s 3-2 loss at Liverpool this weekend. After injuring his left knee in a training exercise, Kompany was listed as a game-time decision and the effects were seen clearly. Komapny was smoked by Raheem Sterling both on the run and his move leading to Liverpool’s first goal. While it is tough to blame the defender on Liverpool’s second goal, it was still his man, Martin Skrtel, who beat him to the near post and put the home side ahead by two. Adding insult to injury was Kompany’s attempted clear in the 78th minute that was a perfect assist to Phillippe Coutinho. This goal put the visitors behind on the day and second favorites for the EPL title. The game can be seen as a microcosm of the season for Kompany as his form has been all over the place, and if Belgium is to make a deep run then their captain will have to be at his best.
Belgium and Everton front man Lukaku has had a breakout season for the Toffees and is currently sitting on 16 goals in all competitions. But after this weekend’s game against a down and out Sunderland squad, many are left questioning whether Lukaku’s legs are starting to fatigue. The striker never looked comfortable or explosive against a team in which opportunities have been easy to come by. The 20-year-old has already surpassed his previous personal best in games played, and with Everton in a Champions League battle he will surely be called on to play big minutes in the season’s final fixtures. Lukaku’s poor form would not be as big of a deal for Belgium if Christian Benteke did not go down with a torn ACL last week. The No. 2 striker will be sidelined for reminder of the Premier League season and also the World Cup. The injury certainly calls Belgium’s depth into question.
Any up-and-coming side looking to make a run on the world’s largest stage needs a healthy and in form squad going in to the competition, and Belgium is no different. Their starting 11 can play with anyone in the world, but they lack the depth that the powerhouses have. The loss of Benteke will limit their options in attack and should leave manager Marc Wilmots scrambling. Additionally, if Kompany and Lukaku can not overcome a poor end to the EPL season, then expect their lack of depth to bite them at the worst time.