It’s not advisable to draw any grand conclusions from the first round of friendlies leading up to the World Cup. Teams are paring down their squads to the final 23 man list and the competition is akin to what you’d see when Alabama schedules Georgia Southern. These first games especially are “friendly” in the loosest sense of the term and aren’t about wins or losses, but about beginning to build the team concept leading to when the games count in Brazil.
All that being said, you couldn’t help but lift up your head and take notice of what Belgium and Romelu Lukaku did in their 5-1 victory over Luxembourg.
Of course, the Red Lions aren’t going to be confused with Three Lions anytime soon and a result against the 120th placed team in the world rankings is little to brag about. However, it was Lukaku’s individual brilliance that stole the show. The striker who Chelsea loaned to Everton last year (not that they needed any world class strikers or anything) picked up where he left off in the Premier League. The 21 year old scored a hat trick including this stunning solo effort:
Belgium has been tipped by many (including myself) as the best dark horse contender at the 2014 World Cup. This is a legitimate semifinal squad from back to front. Thibaut Courtois and Simon Mignolet are excellent between the pipes. Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany leads a backline with loads of experience at Europe’s highest levels including Toby Alderweireld (Atletico Madrid), Daniel Van Buyten (Bayern Munich), Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal), and Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham).
The midfield is stocked with exciting young talents led by Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United), Kevin De Bruyne (Wolfsburg) and Dries Mertens (Napoli).
However, if there is one question mark about the Belgian squad – it is their depth at striker behind Lukaku with fellow Premier League star Christian Benteke missing due to injury. Lukaku will be tasked with leading Belgium’s attack on his own throughout the World Cup. If Lukaku hits an injury himself or his form suddenly disappears, Belgium might be in trouble.
In short, their World Cup hopes will hinge on their powerful young striker. That makes him one of the most valuable players at this entire World Cup.
Belgium will go as far as Lukaku will be able to lead them. He will get plenty of support from a midfield dripping with skill, that’s not in doubt. And if Lukaku flashes the brilliance we saw against Luxembourg and throughout the EPL season, Belgium will go a long way to fulfill the prophecies about their 2014 World Cup success.