Analysis: A look at Marc Wilmots' 23-man Belgium squad for Euro 2016

Possessing some of the finest talents from Europe's top five leagues, Belgium come into Euro 2016 with an exceptional squad - but has Marc Wilmots made the right decisions with his final 23-man selection?

Analysis: A look at Marc Wilmots' 23-man Belgium squad for Euro 2016
(Picture: Getty Images)

Injuries have not been kind to Belgium in the past couple of months. First, there was the monumental blow that they would be without captain and leader Vincent Kompany at Euro 2016 due to a thigh injury sustained in early May.

Instead, the Red Devils skipper will be in the BBC studio alongside the likes of Gary Lineker and Thierry Henry as a pundit. Kompany has recently been joined on the sidelines by three more defenders, with Bjorn Engels, Nicolas Lombaerts and Dedryck Boyata all adding to the list of absentees.

That has forced Belgium boss Marc Wilmots in to a rethink defensively, as shown by the call-up of uncapped full-back Christian Kabasele, while it looks as though 20-year-old Jason Denayer will be tasked with filling Kompany's boots as the side's main ball-playing centre-back.

Nevertheless, despite their absentees and those others carrying knocks - Thomas Meunier, Mousa Dembele and Radja Nainggolan all missing Belgium's penultimate friendly against Finland because of minor problems - there can be no debate that they boast one of the best squads at the tournament.

It might be a surprise that they come into this tournament as Europe's highest-ranked team in the FIFA world rankings, which they topped for most of 2015, but they possess an abundance of quality throughout the team. Especially in attack, with Kevin De BruyneEden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku just a number of the distinguished few. 

But who else is in the star-studded 23-man squad Belgium will be taking with them to France?


Courtois will maintain his position between the sticks for Belgium at the Euros. (Picture: Getty Images)
Courtois will maintain his position between the sticks for Belgium at the Euros. (Picture: Getty Images)

The undisputed No.1 goalkeeper under Wilmots' charge, Belgium's go-to guy in between the sticks will be Thibaut Courtois. He admittedly endured a below-par campaign with Chelsea in 2015-16, one which was curtailed early on by a serious knee injury, but the 24-year-old remains one of the best young shotstoppers in Europe. 

He allowed his standards to slip last season, but a change of environment with the national team may allow him to recapture the kind of form that made him such a big hit on loan at Atletico Madrid and helped him take Chelsea to the Premier League title in 2014-15. He might have to, if Belgium are to live up to their reputation as one of the favourites to win the tournament.

Behind Courtois is Simon Mignolet, who has been a source of frustration for Liverpool supporters throughout the last 12 months because of his inconsistencies and error-prone nature. He made four errors leading to a goal in the league alone, worse only than Artur Boruc of Bournemouth with five. It's unlikely that he will get any game time at the Euros, having become accustomed to playing second-fiddle to Courtois in recent years, but there are certainly worse back-up 'keepers to have.

Finally, Belgium's third-choice is 36-year-old Jean-François Gillet. He is unlikely to get any minutes, barring an injury crisis, but could be an important figure behind-the-scenes because of his immense experience. It's perhaps questionable that he beat Professional Goalkeeper of the Year Matz Sels, of KAA Gent, to the final squad, however Gillet is not without his qualities. He saved three penalties in a single league game against Anderlecht for KV Mechelen last term and it has to be acknowledged this is likely to be his final ever major tournament.


Alderweireld could be a key figure in the Red Devils' defence this summer. (Picture: Getty Images)
Alderweireld could be a key figure in the Red Devils' defence this summer. (Picture: Getty Images)

Vincent Kompany's injury means Belgium are weaker than they could be at the heart of defence, but still they boast a number of high-quality centre-backs - all of whom are familiar faces.

Those include Tottenham Hotspur duo Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, who formed a formidable pairing that conceded only 27 goals in 29 league games together in 2015-16. That record would have been even more impressive were it not for a 5-1 defeat on the final day of the season at the hands of already-relegated Newcastle United. As a result of their club form, the two are sure-fire starters with Alderweireld - who was named in the PFA Team of the Year - likely to be integral. 

However, the Spurs pair could be pushed out wide to accomodate Jason Denayer and Thomas Vermaelen in the middle. The latter, as formerly mentioned, has been touted as the ideal fill-in for Kompany and his successful spells on loan at Celtic and Galatasaray have indicated how good a defender he could become further down the line. Much also rests on the shoulders of Vermaelen, who featured for just 506 minutes for Barcelona this season but finds himself a first-choice defender this summer and at 30 years of age, offers valuable experience alongside Denayer. 

Wilmots has been shown to have less trust in full-backs Thomas Meunier and Jordan Lukaku and so they will probably act only as reserve options, with the boss harbouring worries over their defensive capabilities. Laurent Ciman will remain a reserve centre half in case Belgium suffer any further injuries, taking the role Lombaerts would have had if he had recovered from his muscle tear. Christian Kabasele, meanwhile, remains a relative unknown having never been capped. A striker in the Belgian second division only three years ago, the central defender could possibly prove a hidden gem if thrust into the limelight. But, again, any inclusion may require injuries.

A back-four consisting of a central partnership of Denayer and Vermaelen, with Alderweireld at right-back and Vertonghen on the left seems most likely - with Wilmots having trialled that back-four in the warm-up friendlies. Will it be good enough? Time will only tell, it all depends on whether their makeshift full-backs can ensure a solid defence but also provide attacking width. It's certainly the weakest area of Belgium's squad, and so they will probably be targeted down the sides - something Wilmots may already be aware of. 


Fellaini and Witsel could hold down Belgium's central midfield positions. (Picture: Getty Images)
Fellaini and Witsel could hold down Belgium's central midfield positions. (Picture: Getty Images)

Belgium's top-heavy selection has left them with just four natural central midfielders, something which shouldn't be a problem given their most common formation is usually along the lines of a 4-2-3-1. 

The Red Devils boss usually tends to go for a No.6 and a No.8 in the centre, with Axel Witsel or Marouane Fellaini the two main choices for the former role and Radja Nainggolan and Mousa Dembele battling it out for the other position.

Witsel and Nainggolan are the most customary match in the middle, with the latter providing a dependable defensive base which allows his partner, of AS Roma, to make the most of his tenacious box-to-box style. Long linked with a move to England's top division, Nainggolan ended the season with four goals in eight games and was named as the only non-Juventus midfielder in the Serie A Team of the Year. He has soared in importance since missing out on the World Cup two years ago and is arguably now one of the best of his type in Europe.

Of their other options, Fellaini is actually the squad's highest goalscorer - with even more goals than any of their selected strikers (15). Due to his aerial ability and his versatility, the midfielder is a more valuable asset than at club level although the team tend to be more one-dimensional with him in the line-up. Nevertheless, he should get a handful of games even if just off the substitutes' bench.

Carrying a minor muscle issue, Spurs' Dembele was a crucial component of a side who for long periods were the closest challengers to eventual league champions Leicester City. Perhaps undervalued, his multifaceted style makes him an excellent option - but he's less effective at a national level and the 28-year-old could find it difficult to make the starting XI despite his qualities. 


De Bruyne and Hazard will be the stars for Belgium, if they can handle the pressure. (Picture: Getty Images)
De Bruyne and Hazard will be the stars for Belgium, if they can handle the pressure. (Picture: Getty Images)

Up top is undoubtedly where Belgium are best stocked, hence why Wilmots has called up eight forwards in total. Breaking that number down shows four strikers, two wingers and two attacking midfielders - although many of them are capable of interchanging positions. 

Commonly opting for one striker, with an attacking three behind, Lukaku - who plundered a career-best 25 goals for a poor Everton side - is the main candidate to lead the line. However, his poor form in the run-in (three goals in 18 league appearances in 2016) may leave his place in jeopardy given the stellar competition. Nevertheless, with 14 goals in 45 appearances which is the best record of any of Belgium's strikers at the competition, the odds are in his favour to be first-choice pick.

Further down the pecking order, Divock Origi and Michy Batshuayi are both likely to find themselves ahead of Christian Benteke, who was fortunate to keep his place in the squad, after a disappointing first season at Liverpool where he managed only 10 goals in 41 games. The former Aston Villa man has lost his place to Lukaku for his country, but he might be able to re-establish himself as first-choice if he makes good impressions off of the bench.

Origi, meanwhile, thrived under Jürgen Klopp on Merseyside since hitting his first three goals for Liverpool in a League Cup win away at Southampton. He like Benteke notched 10 goals in total, although was generally much more impressive in his performances and at one point was first-choice striker ahead of Daniel Sturridge before sustaining a serious ankle injury which kept him out for two months just as he was finding his best form.

Batshuayi is another precocious young talent, hitting 24 goals in 51 appearances - including four goals in the final four games of the season - for a substandard Marseille side. His mobility and directness, similar to Origi, may work in his favour in addition to a number of encouraging caps off of the bench. Should Wilmots ever opt to go for two up front, he will be fairly level with Origi and could even be used alongside him ahead of Benteke and Lukaku.

In the supporting triumvirate, De Bruyne will be the playmaking star in a No.10 role. The Manchester City man enjoyed an excellent first season which, despite being interrupted by injury, scored 16 goals and registered nine assists in 41 appearances in all competitions. With no other natural creative midfielder to rival him, De Bruyne's responsibility as star man is indisputable.

Having been selected as captain, Hazard is almost certain to start every game on the left side - with Yannick Ferreira Carrasco and Dries Mertens left to do battle for the other available position. Wilmots will hope Hazard can carry the form which saw him score four goals in his final four games before this summer's tournament, after he scored his first league goals in 13 months.

Otherwise, both Carrasco and Mertens have enjoyed terrific form for Atletico Madrid and Napoli respectively, though Mertens could be preferred ahead of his younger and less experienced alternative as one of this Belgium side's most underrated players. Depending on Hazard's displays, he could find his position in danger if the other two wingers can sustain their fine recent form.

Notable absentees:

Given Belgium's dearth of talent, some were always going to be disappointed and with such an incredible attacking cast in particular, Everton's Kevin Mirallas and Tottenham Hotspur's Nacer Chadli were among the biggest names to miss out.

Mirallas has netted nine goals across 50 caps but did not even make the provisional 24-man squad last month after being relegated to the Everton substitutes' bench for much of the season.

He started just 13 games across all competitions, scoring six goals, but could not do enough to convince Wilmots he was worthy of a place. 

Chadli, too, found it difficult to break into a Spurs team that for so long lit up the Premier League before faltering in the final weeks and finishing third. The 26-year-old winger found himself largely surplus to requirements and started just 10 league games.

Chadli and Mirallas will both have to watch the Euros from home. (Picture: Getty Images)
Chadli and Mirallas will both have to watch the Euros from home. (Picture: Getty Images)

Although he scored eight goals across a total of 40 appearances, he was not considered after appearing for just 64 minutes from March 17 until the end of the season. The decision was not particularly astonishing given Chadli's back-up status at Spurs.

Otherwise, 46-time capped midfielder Steven Defour of Anderlecht is another of the significant missing players. Brother of stand-in captain Eden Hazard; Thorgan Hazard, also misses out having been put on stand-by.

With this Belgium's 'Golden Generation' there a number of other promising youngsters to have missed out, particularly Youri Tielemans, Zakaria Bakkali and Adnan Januzaj - all of whom have missed out to more experienced alternatives. Other highly-rated Under-21s Dennis Praet and Charly Musonda will have to wait until future tornaments for their chance in the first-team.

With Kompany, Engels, Lombaerts and Boyata out - Anthony Vanden Borre may be one of the few defenders disappointed to be left at home, especially having broken his ankle in the third game of their 2014 World Cup campaign. The 28-year-old defender has been capped 28 times, scoring one goal, but found himself behind Kabasele.


Overall, it is difficult to argue with Wilmots' choices and defensively, his hand has been forced due to injuries. He would no doubt love to have Kompany, and even Lombaerts, available but has overcame their injuries with good selections.

Even with absentees, Belgium boast an incredibly strong spine and if they can get their midfield and attack to gel sufficiently, they've enough firepower to trouble even the sternest of defences at the Euros.

They also need all of their key players to contribute, particularly the likes of De Bruyne and Hazard, while Lukaku's personal ambitions to play in the Champions League could work in Belgium's favour as he looks to attract potential suitors. 

All in all, it seems as though they could be one of the most entertaining teams to watch at the tournament and the Red Devils are worth keeping an eye out for, because this summer could be the one in which they meet their lofty expectations.