Belgium: illegitimate defense

Toby Alderweireld, 33. Jan Vertonghen, 35 years old. As in 2018, the old veterans will still be ahead of Thibaut Courtois this year. Almost unchanged in an immutable 3-4-3, the defense of the Red Devils is not a guarantee of great success when we see Belgium entering this World Cup against Canada.

“I’m working tirelessly around a roster of 55 players, and I think we’re stronger than in 2018.” If just a month ago, Roberto Martínez was ambitious, a few days before awarding his 26 tickets for the trip to Qatar at the microphone of RTBF, Eden Hazard did not hesitate to contradict him a week in the columns of The Team : “We must not hide, we are less strong. » The list may be substantially identical, Belgium seems much less equipped to compete with the biggest nations, and the choice of casting concerning the defensive line is the perfect illustration.

In bad Kompany

“The criticisms of our defense? It’s wood to fuel the fire. » Annoyed by the doubts of some journalists around the last line of the Belgians, Toby Alderweireld stepped up to the plate during the first press conference of the Devils in Qatar to defend his performances and that of his teammates. We have already shown that we are there when it matters. Just think of the game against Brazil. People want to pull us down, but I’m eager to respond on the pitch. » If the current captain of Antwerp is so eager to shut mouths, it is surely because the Belgians were not able to do so against Egypt, a nation not qualified for the World Cup, in their last match. preparation in Kuwait last weekend (1-2). Defensive wanderings are not new, however. To be precise, they date back to the summer of 2019. “It’s simple, we never recovered from the retirement of Vincent Kompany” , claims Georges Leekens, coach of the Devils between 2010 and 2012. To reach the last step of the podium in Russia, Belgium had been able to count on the former captain of Manchester City and the pair Alderweireld-Vertonghen, then indisputable holder in the Tottenham of Mauricio Pochettino – incidentally a Champions League finalist. Since then, one has returned from a season in Qatar to play spoilsport in the Jupiler Pro League at 33, while the other is struggling to perform under the tunic of Anderlecht at 35 brooms. “They came back to the country to have playing time and keep up the pace for their last World Cup, continues Leekens. But it’s not a question of age or speed, it’s a question of reading things better and stopping making stupid mistakes. We are slower in decisions and in percussion. » In great difficulty during Final Four of the last edition of the League of Nations, the line to three of the Red Devils had only made up the numbers against Italy (2-1) and has always shown as much laxity since: nine games, twelve goals conceded and only two clean sheets in 2022, nothing very reassuring before approaching a World Cup.

The change is not now

Faced with these difficulties, Roberto Martínez decided not to flinch. Since the departure of Vincent Kompany – current Burnley coach – three years ago, the Spanish tactician has continued to put in place his system of three defenders made up of the pair of veterans, and fills the hole with the player most in form. Thus, the young Zeno Debast three times, Leander Dendoncker twice and Dedryck Boyata and Arthur Theate each in turn took their place in the middle of the two old Spurs during the meetings of the Devils this year, proof of real instability. To bring consistency and reliability, the question of bringing down Axel Witsel – so reassuring since the start of the season in this position on the side of Atlético under the orders of Diego Simeone – had come up on the table a few years ago. weeks. Martinez, however, quickly swept away this hypothesis, preferring his player a notch higher. For this World Cup, the Spaniard therefore has four choices: Debast, Dendoncker, Theate (Rennes) and Faes (Leicester, ex-Reims). In the absence of Jan Vertonghen, slightly touched during a warm-up, Martínez had tested a Theate-Alderweireld-Debast defense against Mohamed Salah’s teammates, without much success therefore. According to Alderweireld, this hinge is nothing to worry about: “I hope Vertonghen will be with us on Wednesday. But anyway, there are also young people ready to show themselves at the highest level. If he is there, so much the better, otherwise we will always be strong. » In both cases, it is Jonathan David who will be responsible for pressing where it hurts.

by Matthieu Darbas
Words by Georges Leekens collected by MD.

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