Goals from all over the pitch make Belgium a serious punt for Euro 2016 success
Euro 2016 Preview: Belgium
1. Eden Hazard
The mercurial winger’s rapid improvement in form came too late to help make anything of Chelsea’s disastrous season but was right on time to cement a starting place for Belgium at Euro 2016. As well as impressing any potential summer suitors.
Scoring six goals in eight games in 2015 for Belgium, five coming in Euro 2016 qualification games, Hazard has finally started to find the net at international level. His four Premier League goals came in his last five games of the season and for the first time in a year he is looking like the player who led Chelsea to last season’s title. If that’s the one who shows up in France we’re talking a potential player of the tournament.
- Eden Hazard to be player of the tournament –
2. Once They Qualify…
This is the first time Belgium have taken part in a European Championship since they hosted it back in 2000, when they failed to get out of their group. Money well spent. The last time they actually qualified for the tournament was back in 1984, when again they failed to get out of their group. Their two previous appearances resulted in coming runners-up in 1980 and third in 1972.
Of the three occasions of Belgium legitimately qualifying for a European Championship they’ve gotten to at least the semi-finals twice and the final once. The last of these tournaments was some 32 years ago. Making 36 year-old, third-choice goalkeeper Jean Francois Gillet the only member of the current squad who was actually alive at the time. It’s still an impressive strike-rate. This current squad is the fifth favourite in the betting so a quarter-final place is the least that’s expected of them.
- Belgium to win Euro 2016 –
3. Thibaut’s Troubles
He started the season as the undisputed number 1 for the Premier League champions. A red card quickly followed by a 3 month injury lay-off saw him return to a Chelsea team struggling near the bottom of the table. Late in the season he earned the ignominious title of becoming the first goalkeeper to receive two red cards in one Premier League season. In total he kept six clean sheets in 30 games across all competitions for his club, just one of which came in his last 14 games.
None of this sounds like a ringing endorsement for Belgium’s chances. There’s no escaping how poor this last season has been but that was the 24 year-olds sixth full professional season. In the previous five he was the mainstay for three different clubs, winning a league title with each to go with a Europa League winner’s medal and a Champions League runners-up medal. He has been brilliant from the age of 17 and one iffy season does not negate everything he did before that. If anything it predicts the ability to provide a positive reaction. Expect the Belgian stopper to rebound in the more jubilant team environment and prove he’s one of the best in Europe.
- Coutois to be UEFA Goalkeeper of the Tournament –
4. Well Spread
Belgium scored 24 goals in their 10 qualifying games and yet no player scored more than 5 goals, both Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne hitting this figure. In total 10 players combined to score all 24 goals, with no reliance on any single player and the ability to score from all angles. In comparison Gareth Bale scored 7 of Wales’ 11 goals in the same group.
This heading has a bonus meaning because Belgium’s squad has a near perfect spread of ages. The defence is largely players in their late 20s to very early 30s. With the full-backs in their early 20s. The four registered midfielders are 27 or 28 and the attacking players are in their early to mid 20s, with 29 year-old Dries Mertens thrown in for experience.
- Belgium to win Group E –
5. Kevin De Bruyne
What more can you say about De Bruyne’s first season in the Premier League? Nine goals and seven assists from 22 games is a startling amount for a 24-year-old in his debut season in which he also missed a significant chunk of action through injury. Only Sergio Aguero contributed to more goals for Manchester City than KDB in the Premier League.
De Bruyne averages a goal every three games for his country (13 in 39) but his overall contribution is even more significant. Alongside Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard, De Bruyne will have plenty of opportunity to kick on from Euro 2016 Qualifying where he bagged three assists and four goals as Belgium topped Group B.
- Kevin De Bruyne to be Player of the Tournament –