Estonia are heavy underdogs against Belgium with Roberto Martinez’s side sitting comfortably at the top of group H of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers 2018.
Estonia are out of the race to qualify for the FIFA World Cup 2018 but can still earn massive respect with a formidable performance against Belgium, who are rated and ranked as one of the best teams in international football at the present moment.
Belgium on the other hand, would be looking to continue their undefeated streak and will be eager to show their attacking prowess on the night, to further accentuate their World Cup credentials. Roberto Martinez may even attempt different permutations and give the fringe players a chance.
We take a closer look at the fixture.
Team News & Tactics
Martin Reim has his task cut out in order to motivate his team to produce a formidable performance on Friday. The onus on the defensive front will be on the captain and Liverpool defender Ragnar Klavan, who is likely to have to deal with a barrage of attacks coming his way.
There are two potential debutants for Estonia in the form of goalkeeper Mait Toom and young defender Madis Vihmann. But the duo are unlikely to be handed starts by Reim, who will be going with the experienced Mihkel Aksalu in goal.
Henri Anier was the scorer in the first phase of the Qualifiers when the two teams met in 2016 and could be a surprise starter ahead of the likes of Sergei Zenjov and Ats Purje. Karol Mets is likely to partner the veteran Aleksandr Dmitrijev in the pivot role, with the former likely to act as an Anchor-Man for the defence.
The spotlight, though, will be on the wonderkid Mattias Kait, if Reim chooses to start the player in his preferred number 10 role. The 18-year-old Fulham star has already impressed for Estonia with 2 goals in 4 caps and could turn out to be a potent threat on the Belgium goal on Friday.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Aksalu; Mool, Klavan, Teniste, Pikk; Mets, A.Dmitrijev; Vassiljev, Kait, Luts; Anier
Roberto Martinez may experiment for the game but is likely to still go with the dependable Thibaut Courtois in goal. The manager is likely to opt for a 3-man defence again, given the proportion of players called up to the squad in each position.
The Premier League trio of Vincent Kompany, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen are likely to provide steel at the back. There is a little of bit of confusion as to whether Roberto Martinez will deploy a 3-4-3 or a 3-5-2 on Friday.
Youri Tielemans should start while Thorgan Hazard is likely to take his brother’s place in the starting lineup, who is out with an injury. There is likely to be a toss between Marouane Fellaini and Axel Witsel as to the name in the starting eleven while Kevin De Bruyne will mostly be the number 10 in the lineup.
Alternatively, Nainggolan could be preferred over Fellaini and Witsel both.
Yannick Carrasco should get the nod ahead of Nacer Chadli on the other wing while Romelu Lukaku is almost a certainty to lead the frontline. Martinez, though, may experiment as to the Everton superstar’s partner and we may see the robust forward being partnered by a more agile Michy Batshuayi, Dries Mertens or Divock Origi.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2/3-2-3-2): Courtois; Vertonghen, Kompany, Alderweireld; Tielemans, Nainggolan; T. Hazard, De Bruyne, Carrasco; Lukaku, Mertens
1. Belgium pumped in 8 goals past Estonia in the first phase of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers Group H.
2. Romelu Lukaku and Dries Mertens both scored a brace in the 8-1 drubbing and are likely to be the duo upfront for Martinez on Friday.
3. Belgium have 13 points from 5 games and are on course to level or improve upon their highest points tally in the Group Stage of the World Cup Qualifiers – 26 points obtained in the 2014 Qualifiers.
4. Martinez’s side has blitzed past their opponents (22 goals), with an average 4.4 goals per game in the 5 games so far, already surpassing the 2014 Qualifying stages’ tally of 18 goals in the entire campaign.
5. Both Estonia and Belgium’s games in the group stages have produced on average, 4.8 goals per match and the same trend is expected to continue on Friday.
Player to Watch
There are lots of superstars expected be on display for the Belgian side on Friday. However, it is the 18-year-old Mattias Kait who could be a keen watch, if the player is afforded a start by Martin Reim. The Fulham youngster is expected to blossom into a future superstar for the Estonian side.
Kait has already produced some impressive performances for his national side and another solid display against a star-studded Belgian side, filled with Premier League stars, could well generate interest in his talent from the highest tier of English football.
Belgium 6 – 1 Estonia
The game will definitely be a high scoring one and there is every chance of a hat-trick being produced by a Belgian player on Friday. Romelu Lukaku is the likely candidate to achieve the aforementioned. However, we may very well see either or both of Tielemans and Thorgan Hazard break their duck for the national side.
Belgian’s philosophy under Roberto Martinez has often seen them leak a goal or two and the same trend could continue against Estonia, which is most likely to come through a set-piece.