Belgium will be hoping to end the international break on a strong note when they play hosts to Belarus in Leuven on Tuesday.
Belgium have had a mixed start to their 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign, with their 3-1 triumph over Wales followed by a recent 1-1 draw with Czech Republic on the weekend. It has left them trailing the Czechs in second place in Group E although the European giants have more than enough time to make up the lost ground.
On Tuesday, the Red Devils prepare for their final game in this year’s first international break as they play hosts to Belarus in the Dan Dreef Stadion in Leuven. It could be a vital game for the hosts, knowing a victory could potentially put them back on top, especially with Czech Republic facing a tricky contest against Wales on the same day.
Belarus, though, are hoping to emerge as the surprise package in this group, having registered a 4-2 victory over Estonia in the first game. It has left them in third place currently, although that could change real soon as Mikhail Markel’s men take on one of the best national teams in the world.
It is also an away game for the eastern European nation, and despite the lack of audience, they should be well aware of Belgium’s dominance in the home turf – making them the obvious underdogs in this affair. And here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides ahead of this highly crucial Group E encounter in the European qualifiers this midweek.
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Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez made a few notable rotations to the team that faced Czech Republic. So one could argue that the team selection for this particular game could solely be decided on merit, with Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne almost guaranteed starters this midweek.
Lukaku, in particular, was the starring figure in the draw with Czech Republic and his physical presence could be critical in the tip of the Belgian attack. The Inter Milan forward should be supported by the creative duo of De Bruyne and Leandro Trossard, who is likely to step in for Dries Mertes after the veteran picked up a knock in the last game.
Martinez, though, does, to an extent, lack options at the base of his preferred 3-4-2-1 formation, especially Axel Witsel out injured. It should see Youri Tielemans and Leander Dendoncker start together for the third time in a row, hoping to offer stability and aggression in the middle of the park.
There might be one change out wide as well, with the more direct Thorgan Hazard replacing Nacer Chadli on the left flank. The Borussia Dortmund star offers more penetration and skill on the ball, both of which could be useful against a Belarus defence that is likely to operate in a low block. It means both Timothy Castagne and Hazard could almost camp themselves in the opposition half.
Defensively, Martinez could hand Brandon Mechele the opportunity ahead of Jason Denayer at the heart of the three-man backline, partnered by the two veteran centre-backs in Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonhen on either side. They will look to protect Thibaut Courtois in goal, with the Real Madrid goalkeeper desperate for a clean sheet this time around.
Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Courtois; Alderweireld, Mechele, Vertonghen; Castagne, Tielemans, Dendoncker, Hazard; De Bruyne, Trossard; Lukaku
Belarus manager Mikhail Markhel usually prefers a 4-2-3-1 formation that offers his side the numerical advantage in the final third as well as a perfect symmetry in transition. And although the 54-year-old is likely to continue with a similar shape, it could be slightly tricky against a 3-4-2-1 that could leave them at a disadvantage in midfield.
As a result, we may see the Belarus side largely relying on long balls out from the back, hoping to pick out runners like Denis Laptev or the wide attackers in Igor Stasevich and Pavel Savitskiy, with Marks Ebong and Ivan Bakhar providing further options upfront.
If the long balls do not work, Belarus could depend on the creative prowess of their number ten in Vitali Lisakovich, who bagged a brace in the comeback win over Estonia. He remains the key player for the visitors heading into this encounter.
Defensively, the midfielders in Yuri Kendysh and Evgeni Yablonski will be well aware of their duties in the second line of press as they look to protect the four-man backline, consisting of Roman Yozepchuk, Maksim Bordachev, Nikita Naumov and Nikolai Zolotov.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Gutor; Yozepchuk, Bordachev, Naumov, Zolotov; Kendysh, Yablonski; Stasevich, Lisakovich, Savitskiy; Laptev
- This will be the first competitive international meeting between Belgium and Belarus.
- Belgium have kept just one clean sheet in their last seven matches; a 2-0 win over England in the UEFA Nations League.
- Since the semi-final defeat to France in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Belgium have lost just one game; 2-1 vs England in October 2020.
- Belarus have scored at least two or more goals in five of their last seven competitive matches.
- Romelu Lukaku is currently Belgium’s top goalscorer of all time, netting 59 goals in just 91 international matches.
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Romelu Lukaku is undoubtedly the most important player for Belgium at the moment, having starred in the first two matches in the European qualifiers so far. His robust presence in the final third has made it difficult for defenders to keep him quiet so far, which was evident in the recent draw with Czech Republic.
However, aside from his physicality, Lukaku has greatly improved his quality on the ball. He is much more technical and can provide seamless transition which also lets him gel well alongside de Bruyne. It is why Belgium have managed to keep up their attacking endeavours despite the absence of star player Eden Hazard.
As for Belarus, it will be imperative for them to keep a close eye on Lukaku if they are to salvage anything from this game. The key will be to cut off the creative supply, most likely by offering minimal space in between the lines.
Belgium 2-0 Belarus
Having secured a brilliant victory over Estonia in the last game, Belarus will be heading into this game full of confidence and are not an opposition to be taken lightly. However, in Belgium, they will face a stern test especially when it comes to remaining defensively solid against a world-class attacking unit. And with the added home advantage, we expect the Red Devils to secure a relatively comfortable victory in Leuven this midweek.