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There is not much to choose between the two sides these days, and the odds on an away win are too attractive to ignore.
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Going into the 2014 World Cup, Belgium were quietly confident. They were among the dark horses in Brazil, thanks in large part to a crop of emerging talents that included Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois and Romelu Lukaku. They were joined by more established players like Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen, Axel Witsel and Toby Alderweireld, giving Belgium one of the most gifted squads in the tournament – on paper at least.
Led by Marc Wilmots, Belgium reached the quarter-finals and were edged out by eventual runners-up Argentina. The Red Devils then went backward at the next tournament, losing to Wales in the last eight of Euro 2016. That defeat led to Wilmots’ departure, with Roberto Martinez chosen as his replacement. Six years on and Belgium’s golden generation has yet to fulfil its immense potential, having been knocked out of the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020 in the semi-finals and quarter-finals respectively.
Winning international tournaments is extremely difficult, so we should not be too hard on Belgium for having failed to do so in recent years. After all, this is a country of just 11.5 million, and although they have had an excellent squad at their disposal at recent World Cups and European Championships, they have been competing with countries that also possess an abundance of talent.
The 2022 World Cup, which takes place in Qatar in November and December, could be this generation’s last shot at glory. Several players are now past their peak, including Hazard, Vertonghen, Witsel, Alderweireld and Dries Mertens. Belgium are currently the seventh-favorites, but some good performances before then – including in the Nations League – could see Martinez’s men receive more backing as the big kick-off gets closer.
While Belgium were finishing third at the 2018 World Cup, their neighbors to the south were watching the action from back home. The Netherlands are three-time World Cup finalists, having been defeated in the final in 1974, 1978 and 2010. But they failed to qualify for the last edition in Russia, having previously fallen short in the qualification stage for Euro 2016. It was Dutch soccer’s lowest ebb for decades, if not ever.
The national team is on its way back, though. The Netherlands qualified for Euro 2020, and although they were dumped out by Czech Republic in the round of 16, their shortcomings were mostly attributable to the now-departed manager, Frank de Boer. Now under the guidance of Louis van Gaal, who is in his third spell in charge of his country, the Dutch could be dark horses in Qatar.
There are certainly some excellent players within the Netherlands ranks. Virgil van Dijk is arguably the best center-back on the planet, and Matthijs de Ligt has the potential to be that one day. Frenkie de Jong and Memphis Depay are not at Barcelona by accident. Georginio Wijnaldum and Ryan Gravenberch should be back for the World Cup, having missed out on Van Gaal’s squad for the Nations League.
The Netherlands were runners-up in the first Nations League in 2018/19, losing the final to Portugal. They should be able to contend for top spot in Group A4, which also features Poland and Wales. The World Cup is the main focus, but Van Gaal will be taking these upcoming games seriously.
It is not particularly easy to predict the outcome of games like this. Neither team has played many matches so far in 2022. We do not know whether the managers will try out different tactics, formations or players with an eye on the World Cup. There is no doubt that both Martinez and Van Gaal will want to win on Friday, but they will be just as concerned with the performance as the result.
The Netherlands have gone unbeaten since that aforementioned 2-0 loss to the Czech Republic at Euro 2020 (which was held last year after being delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic). Van Gaal has settled on a 3-4-2-1 formation which, while not to the liking of traditionalists who will always prefer a 4-3-3, has provided a good balance between attack and defense in the Dutch’s recent outings.
We can expect Belgium to dominate possession on home soil, but this could be ripe for a contain-and-counter approach from the Netherlands. Belgium’s ageing defense is vulnerable to speed in behind and Van Gaal will instruct his players to break forward at pace when the ball changes hands. Given the odds on offer, an away win is the way to go here.
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|Belgium vs Netherlands Information|
|Teams||Belgium vs the Netherlands|
|Location||King Baudouin Stadium, Brussels, Belgium|
|Time||Friday, 3 June 2022, 2.45 PM EDT|
|How to watch||Fox Sports, fuboTV|
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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