Belgium will aim to continue their bright start to the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign when they lock horns with the Czech Republic on Saturday.
Belgium opened their account in the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying round with a convincing 3-1 win over Wales this midweek. It was a comfortable victory that helped them gain a significant headstart in Group E, although things could get trickier when they travel to Prague on Saturday to face the Czech Republic.
As one of Belgium’s top two competitive rivals in the group, Czech Republic kick-started their campaign with a 6-2 thrashing over Estonia. The four-goal triumph means they are currently leading the standings due to a better goal difference, although their main objective will be to at least hold the Red Devils to a draw.
It should nicely open up the group, pitting the three top nations in Belgium, Czech Republic and Wales against one another while Estonia and Belarus serve as underdogs, with the latter yet to play a single game so far.
Belgium, however, should have no such intention and are hoping to maintain a hundred percent winning record, which certainly is not beyond them as Roberto Martinez’s men have lost just one of their last 17 games – a 2-1 defeat to England in the UEFA Nations League back in October.
Here, at The Hard Tackle, we will take a closer look at the two sides ahead of this crucial Group E encounter in the qualifying stage this weekend.
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— Czech Football Team (@ceskarepre_eng) March 25, 2021
Tomas Soucek scored a remarkable hat-trick in the win over Estonia in midweek and the West Ham United midfielder should once again be vital in this encounter, although in a much more defensive role.
Indeed, Soucek’s imposing physical presence and aggression should be pivotal against the hard-working Vladimir Darida at the base of Czech Republic’s 4-4-1-1, with wide midfielders in Lukas Provod and Jakub Jankto completing the second line of press for the home side.
Darida, though, is an extremely versatile forward, meaning he can even operate alongside the lone playmaker in Antonin Barak. It could create a potential 4-3-2-1 shape during attacking spells, with Bayer Leverkusen superstar Patrik Schick spearheading the frontline for the Czech.
Jaroslav Silhavy does have interesting alternatives though, including Matej Vydra of Burnley and Tomas Pekhart. Lukas Masopust and Jakub Pesek provide further options out wide, although, in a game where Czech Republic are unlikely to dominate much possession, the onus will be on the two wide defenders to not only keep things sturdy at the back but also provide some service going forward.
West Ham’s Vladimir Coufal may get a not ahead of Hoffenheim’s Pavel Kaderabek at right-back while Jan Boril remains a guaranteed starter on the left. They will be hoping to complement the two central defenders in David Zima and Ondrej Kudela as the four hope to keep goalkeeper Jiri Pavlenka out of the game as much as possible.
Probable Lineup (4-4-1-1): Pavlenka; Coufal, Kudela, Zima, Boril; Provod, Darida, Soucek, Jankto; Barak; Schick
Unlike his counterpart in the Czech Republic dugout , Belgium coach Roberto Martinez has the privilege of making chops and changes to the side that faced Wales in the last game. There could indeed be rotation, starting from defence where the ageing Thomas Vermaelen could make way for the more bulky figure of Jason Denayer.
The former Manchester City defender offers more robustness in the back three, alongside Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, although one could argue that the presence of two ageing defenders might allow the opposition to exploit Belgium on the counter using the pace of the wide players as well as the attackers.
Winning team! 👏 pic.twitter.com/LWCEOmwm0H
— Belgian Red Devils (@BelRedDevils) March 25, 2021
That is where the two wing-backs in Timothy Castagne and Thorgan Hazard should come into the fray. The former is likely to operate deeper, shifting to a natural right-back whenever necessary to form a pendulating four-man defensive line while Hazard should serve as an out and out attacking outlet from the left.
Dennis Praet and Hans Vanaken are both pushing for starts in central midfield. However, in Leander Dendoncker, Belgium have a crucial holding midfield outlet, who is going to play a vital role in screening the backline while Youri Tielemans is almost an automatic pick for Martinez.
The two attacking midfield slots in the Spaniard’s 3-4-2-1 setup is less averse to change, however, with veteran Dries Mertens likely to be replaced by either Leandro Trossard or Jeremy Doku. One of these should operate alongside Kevin de Bruyne, looking to provide the creative supply Romelu Lukaku up top.
Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Courtois; Denayer, Alderweireld, Vertonghen; Castagne, Dendoncker, Tielemans, Hazard; De Bruyne, Trossard; Lukaku
- Belgium have scored three or more goals in ten of their last 15 matches in all competitions, including a 3-1 triumph over Wales in midweek.
- Czech Republic’s 6-2 win over Estonia in the last game, was the first time they had scored more than four goals in a single match since a 4-1 triumph over China back in March 2018.
- Despite all their goals, Belgium have kept just one clean sheet in their last six matches; a 2-0 win over England in the UEFA Nations League.
- Czech Republic, in contrast, have kept three clean sheets in the last five matches; 2-0 vs Slovakia, 1-0 vs Israel and 1-0 vs Scotland.
- Since the semi-final defeat to France in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Belgium have lost just one game under Roberto Martinez; 2-1 vs England in October 2020.
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Back in Prague with a smile 😃👋🏻 pic.twitter.com/rbqU9fqngp
— Czech Football Team (@ceskarepre_eng) March 25, 2021
Certain key duels in midfield might go a long way in shaping the fate of this encounter, which is why Tomas Soucek could indeed end up playing a crucial role in this game.
As one of the two main midfielders in Czech Republic’s line of press, Soucek is going to operate in a relatively defensive role. It means he will likely to face Youri Tielemans in the middle of the park. It could turn out to be an important duel in midfield as Belgium do rely heavily on the creative output from their central or attacking midfielders.
As such, the duo of Soucek and Darida are vital to Czech Republic’s hopes of keeping the Red Devils quiet for the most part and restrict the supply for star striker Lukaku in the final third. The West Ham United midfielder also likes to drive forward, at times, making him a threat even for the Belgian defence this weekend.
Czech Republic 1-3 Belgium
Belgium certainly cannot afford to underestimate a Czech Republic side that does boast of a lot of quality and have unpredictable wide players who are quite capable of exploiting gaps in behind and initiate electric counter-attacks.
The Red Devils, though, have a quality side despite the absence of Eden Hazard. Coach Roberto Martinez is also likely to ring in a few changes that could ultimately improve the side, and thereby offer better support for Romelu Lukaku. Therefore, we are expecting the visitors to secure a 3-1 victory in Prague this weekend.