Devils’ Moment

Having scaled the top of the FIFA world rankings, Belgium are journeying to France for their first European Championship Finals in 16 years full of hope and, perhaps, burdened with expectation.

There is a real sense that this summer is the defining moment for manager Marc Wilmots and his hugely talented Belgian squad.

Two years ago in Brazil they were eliminated from the World Cup quarter-finals by Argentina and, with the benefit of that tournament experience behind them, big things are anticipated now.

Wilmots led his side to what became a straightforward qualifying campaign.

Their sole defeat arrived against Wales in Cardiff midway through, a real smash and grab from the home side.

Otherwise, Belgium strode powerfully on their journey, largely easing past the likes of Israel, Cyprus and Andorra as they racked up 24 goals against five conceded in 10 games.

For all that their progress was mostly serene, a 3-1 come-from-behind win against Bosnia & Herzegovina in Brussels was the only victory Belgium managed in the four games against the teams that finished directly behind them.

There is undoubted talent in their ranks but, as Wales and Bosnia showed, Belgium can be frustrated.

Attacking Riches

Belgium are blessed with an array of attacking talent that will be the envy of many nations at Euro 2016.

In Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard, Wilmots can call upon two of Europe’s finest young playmakers.

Between them, the Man City and Chelsea duo found the net 10 times in qualifying. Nullifying the threat of one or other would be an unenviable task, in harness they could present an irresistible force.

Marouane Fellaini is utilised by Belgium to maximise his talents and he weighed in with four goals during qualifying.

Napoli’s Dries Mertens and Axel Witsel of Zenit join Nacer Chadli on the supporting cast.

Up front, Romelu Lukaku is now a maturing force compared to the player who went to Brazil in 2014 and a replication of his club form would make him formidable at Euro 2016.

Liverpool pair Christian Benteke and Divock Origi also do battle for a place in the Belgian attack.

As an attacking unit, Belgium have the potential to be among the very best at Euro 2016 but Wilmots must prove he can elicit their best form against high quality opposition when it matters most.

Early Marker

Belgium unwittingly laid down a marker for Euro 2016 by defeating their opening Group E opponents Italy in a friendly in November.

The sides will meet for real in Lyon on June 13 ahead of Belgium’s clash with Republic of Ireland in Bordeaux five days later.

Their group stage finale comes against Sweden in Nice on June 22.

It is not just in the attacking third where Belgium possess star quality.

Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois is an outstanding young goalkeeper and he operates behind a defence that can boast leaders like captain Vincent Kompany, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen.

Thomas Vermaelen’s lack of game time at Barcelona may see him play a bit-part role while Nicolas Lombaerts of Zenit is another trusted option for Wilmots.

When they arrive in France in June, Belgium will do so with plenty of expectation.

Facing Italy in their opening game gives them a major chance to lay down a marker against a perceived big-name that appears to lack the quality of old.

If Wilmots’ team can negotiate that first hurdle, they will offer themselves an appealing platform from which to build their Euro 2016 assault.


Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), Jean-Francois Gillet (Mechelen)

Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham, Thomas Vermaelen (Barcelona), Jason Denayer (Galatasaray), Jordan Lukaku (Oostende), Thomas Meunier (Club Brugges), Laurent Ciman (Montreal Impact), Christian Kabasele (Genk)

Midfielders: Moussa Dembele (Tottenham), Radja Nainggolan (Roma), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Axel Witsel (Zenit St Petersburg), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Dries Mertens (Napoli), Yannick Carrasco (Atletico Madrid)

Forwards: Mitchy Batshuayi (Marseille), Romelu Lukaku (Everton), Christian Benteke (Liverpool), Divock Origi (Liverpool)

Team Profile

Number of European Championship Appearances 4
Best European Championship Performance Runners-up (1980)
Number of European Championship Titles 0
Qualifying Form 10 Won: 7 Drawn: 2 Lost: 1
Coach Marc Wilmots – appointed May 2012
Trophies 0
Most Capped Player Jan Vertonghen (current), Jan Ceulemans (all-time)
Key Player at Euro 2016 Kevin De Bruyne