What: 2014 World Cup Qualifying – Group A
Who: Belgium vs Scotland
When: Tuesday 16th October, 2012, at 19:45 UK Time
Where: King Baudouin Stadium, Brussels, Belgium
Belgian Campaign Gathers Momentum
This is on paper arguably the most tightly contested of all the 2014 World Cup qualifying groups, both lacking in a real giant of the European game, or an outright minnow. Belgium, who have made little impact in international football since the days of Enzo Scifo, are now expected to become a force again.
Eden Hazard, Thomas Vermaelen, Jan Vertonghen, Axel Witsel, Kevin Mirallas, Moussa Dembele, Marouane Fellaini, Vincent Kompany, Steven Defour, Romelu Lukaku and Christian Benteke to name just the most obvious, form the basis of an extremely talented group who undoubtedly have the potential to become one of the best Belgium teams of all time. Another less heralded name in the group is that of Ilombe Mboyo, whose call-up to the national team has sparked fury back at home. A convicted sex offender, he was rehabilitated during a jail sentence and after being released from prison in 2009 became a full time professional; he has since made his name as a prolific forward with Gent. Before his conviction, Mboyo played in the same youth team as Kompany at Anderlecht and was described as a top player among the group.
In recent times Mboyo and the rest of the squad they have failed to demonstrate their rich potential, but the signs under new coach Marc Wilmots have been good; a return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years in Brazil is a real possibility too after an impressive 3-0 win in Serbia on Friday night. That was the first time the Serbians had lost a World Cup qualifier at home in 10 years. Midfielder Kevin De Bruyne was particularly impressive and after scoring his first international goal was named FIFA’s player of the third round of European qualifiers. The victory also takes Belgium top of the group, just ahead of Croatia, and having beaten the Netherlands in a friendly earlier this year Wilmots’ side are looking like they are starting to match the expectations heaped upon them.
Last Chance for Levein and Scotland
Scotland’s national team have, like Belgium, failed to live up to the standards set by some of the sides of the past. Having reached all but one World Cup finals between 1974 and 1998, Scotland have not qualified for an international tournament since 1998 in France. Drawn in a group with Croatia, Serbia and Belgium, their chances of breaking that run and making the trip to Brazil in two years’ time are slim.
Having lost to Wales 2-1 on Friday night, Scotland find themselves with just two points from three games and another defeat in Belgium would surely spell the end of their hopes of reaching Brazil – if they are not already doomed. Defeat could also mean the end for manager Craig Levein, under huge pressure after the Wales defeat in a match billed as a must-win for both sides. With players such as Charlie Adam, Shaun Maloney and Steven Fletcher, returned recently from a self-inflicted international exile, Scotland should be doing better than they are at present.
The omens are not good ahead of the trip to Brussels however. Scotland have won only four and lost eleven of their last 17 away games, keeping just two clean sheets in the last 11. Having already drawn with Serbia and Macedonia at home, a trip to the group leaders is a daunting ask for this Scottish team.
Wales 0-2 Belgium (07/09; World Cup Qualifying)
Belgium 1-1 Croatia (11/09; World Cup Qualifying)
Serbia 0-3 Belgium (12/10; World Cup Qualifying)
Scotland 0-0 Serbia (08/09; World Cup Qualifying)
Scotland 1-1 Macedonia (11/09; World Cup Qualifying)
Wales 2-1 Scotland (12/10; World Cup Qualifying)
Belgium: Marouane Fellaini; Romelu Lukaku
Scotland: Jordan Rhodes; Robert Snodgrass; Grant Hanley; James Forrest
Players to watch
Belgium – Moussa Dembele. The energetic Tottenham midfielder has been one of the stars of the Premier League this season and his running, passing range and creativity will keep Scotland’s midfield busy. Scotland’s midfield have been disjointed recently and although the returns of Scott Brown and Darren Fletcher could help, they will have quite a task keeping Dembele quiet. If he is at his best and is able to dictate proceedings, this will be a long and probably disappointing evening for Levein’s side.
Scotland – Steven Fletcher: Returning from international exile after a falling out with Levein, the Scotland boss had little choice but to turn to the Sunderland man following his remarkable start to the Premier League campaign. The scorer of all of his clubs goals in the league so far this campaign, Fletcher is one of the best poachers in the English game. His movement is smart, his running constant, and both a good header of the ball and a technically adept player, he will be a vital threat on the counter attack.
This game will probably be dominated by Belgium’s technical midfielders, who boast the brawn and passing quality to keep Scotland on the back foot.
One question over Belgium may be a lack of natural width. Their midfielders, like Steven Defour and Eden Hazard, tend to cut inside, and much will rest on Dries Mertens to provide from out wide. With Jan Vertonghen operating at left back, his forays forward could be critical, but Scotland may profit from playing a narrow system and ceding wide areas. Although the scoreline was mightily impressive, the game with Serbia was not as one sided as the result suggested and the Belgian defence, marshalled by Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen, can be breached. And so on the counter attack, Levein will hope that Adam and Shaun Maloney’s passing range can cause Belgium problems and give Fletcher opportunities.
The Scots have the tools and capabilities to frustrate Belgium at times, with Brown and Fletcher’s running in central midfield central to their plans. They also have the defensive organisation to keep themselves in the game against their illustrious opponents. However, with the quality Belgium have they will make chances. Even without natural width, players like Eden Hazard and Dembele can take players on, run past them and create the space needed to forge opportunities. That should be enough to see off a Scotland side who can be expected to put up a good fight. Belgium 2-0 Scotland.
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