The Little Red Divils
We caught up with Belgian journalist supremo, John Chapman (@BelgoFoot) of World Soccer magazine, to hear how the Belgians are trembling about the prospects of facing us in Bordeaux (amongst others less concerning things...)
TOJ: With arguably their greatest ever squad, are expectations high in Belgium?
JC: Strangely I don't think as high as they were for Brazil, when 'golden generation' was at its highest. But quite a few think semi-finals at least, including some pundits.
TOJ: How is the relationship between the Belgian national team and the public?
JC: Again, not quite as strong as it was before Brazil. But a few good wins could change that.
TOJ: Marc Wilmots was a very competitive player for Belgium. Taking over a squad that was rumoured to lack discipline, how has he done?
JC: He's taken the team to number 1 in FIFA rankings but that is somewhat false. He's done ok but the feeling is that he should have done better with the quality he has.
TOJ: Belgium qualified as winners of Group B, however took only 1 point from two games against Wales, how would you assess their qualification campaign?
JC: I am getting boring here but not as good as pre-Brazil. The opposition was not as strong and they never really played that well in qualifying.
TOJ: Eden Hazard has been selected to captain the squad for Euro’s, has this come as a surprise to the Belgian public?
JC: Probably, certainly to me. I think it’s a bad decision. I would have preferred to see someone like Vertonghen.
TOJ: How is the Belgian XI likely to line out from a tactical and strategy point of view?
JC: 4-3-3 and when they fail to breakdown the opposition defence, they will probably throw on the big guys.
TOJ: Belgium’s squad is littered with midfielders and forwards at top European clubs, however defensively, less so. Is there a lack of strength in depth at the back?
JC: Yes. There are no reserve full backs of quality so centre backs playing there. And central defence is now weaker without Kompany.
TOJ: On this, how are Belgium likely to deal with the absence of Vincent Kompany? Who are the likely candidates to replace him in the starting XI?
JC: I think he’ll go for experience so Alderweireld and Vermaelen in the centre, Ciman and Vertonghen at full back.
TOJ: Does this Belgian team have weaknesses? And if so what do you think they are? Does the lack of natural full-backs curtail their attacking game?
JC: 1. Defence is a weakness as described, as that it’s a back four that have not played together. 2. Strikers hardly scored in qualifying games and rarely combined well with the midfield. 3. It’s been hard to break down a packed defence.
TOJ: Who the emerging Belgian talents that could make a mark on this tournament?
JC: Carrasco, Nainggolan and Batshuayi.
TOJ: How is this Irish team likely to be perceived in Belgium?
JC: They will think typically 'British' (sorry) - kick and rush.
TOJ: Finally, how do you see the Belgium v Ireland game ending up and also the final group standings?
JC: Belgium to win 2-1, late winner. Standings - Italy, Belgium, Ireland, Sweden.
TOJ: If we can do that with 4 points, we'll take it John!
John Chapman is World Soccer's Belgian football expert, and also contributes to Four Four Two, Sports Illustrated, BBC Five Live, CNN and numerous other media outlets. Follow him at @belgofoot to avail of his insight throughout Euro 2016.
Fantastic illustration provided by @howayaprints, available to purchase at www.howaya.ie