For the first time in 12 years, Belgium have qualified for the World Cup, thanks in no small part to Marouane Fellaini.
The giant midfielder, who has proved to be somewhat of a misfit at Old Trafford, starred in eight of his countries qualifiers as they finished top of their group.
With arguably their best squad in many years, and with Adnan Januzaj on top of already a talented squad, they could prove to be one of the dark horses in Brazil.
With that in mind, Belgian journalist Bjorn De Cock offered his insight to The Peoples Person regarding Belgium’s chances at the World Cup.
How integral is Marouane Fellaini to the Belgium side?
Marc Wilmots is a big fan of Marouane Fellaini but Axel Witsel is the only midfielder who is certain of a spot in the team. Kevin De Bruyne recently got his chance as Belgium’s attacking midfielder and that worked out well. This probably means that Marc Wilmots has to choose between Steven Defour, Marouane Fellaini and Moussa Dembélé for that last spot in midfield.
I personally think that he will pick Dembélé if he plays with De Bruyne in midfield. If De Bruyne goes back to the right he’ll play with Dembélé and Fellaini in midfield.
Has his poor form for his club changed the way he is viewed within Belgium?
Not yet. People in Belgium do believe that Fellaini is capable of doing much better than what he has showed so far with Manchester United. He’s an unique type of player. Without injuries things would also have been easier for him. He was also very unlucky to arrive the season after Sir Alex Ferguson said goodbye. Next season will be crucial for his United career.
Fellaini was used more often than not in away games during qualifiers where Belgium possibly needed to play with a bit more security. Do you feel he will be used in a similar manner during the World Cup due to the importance of the matches?
That’s probably the reason why Wilmots is such a big fan of Fellaini. He works hard for his team and he’s so strong on set-pieces. Wilmots wants his team to score from set pieces and than you need somebody like Fellaini. He clears a lot of balls in his own box and can score a goal out of nothing in the opponent’s 18-yard box. Fellaini is a true warrior on the pitch and Wilmots likes players like that as he was also one of them during his career. There’s a reason they call him “Das Kampfschwein”.
How big a coup was getting Adnan Januzaj to play for Belgium has opposed to the other countries he was linked to?
Well, he only needed to choose between Belgium and Albania. England or any other country was (probably) never an option for Adnan Januzaj. He’s born in Belgium and wanted to concentrate on club football first. He did amazing in his first season with United and he got the chance to go to the World Cup with Belgium. I think Belgium was the only logical option for Januzaj.
What role do you think Januzaj will play at the World Cup? Do you believe he’s capable of starting or do you believe he will be mainly used as a impact substitute?
This World Cup he will be mainly used as an impact substitute but that doesn’t mean that he can’t have an important role for Belgium. Dries Mertens and Adnan Januzaj are Wilmots biggest jokers this World Cup. If you can bring in players with their quality you can’t complain as coach. Personally, I think that Januzaj will be Belgium’s star at Euro 2016 in France.
Due to Januzaj not playing an qualifying matches for Belgium, is there a perception that it is perhaps unfair that he should find himself in Brazil?
Not one fan thinks that Januzaj doesn’t deserve his selection. He had a great debut season with United. He’s a versatile player which gives Wilmots more possibilities. Wilmots selected the best players of Belgium. The only one you could argue about is Radja Nainggolan but you can’t expect from Wilmots to leave Fellaini, Dembélé or Defour out of the team.
How far do you believe Belgium could go at the World Cup? Do you think they should be considered a dark horse for the tournament or is that an unfair tag considering the talents players Wilmots has at his disposal?
It took us 12 years to qualify again for a World Cup. Belgium should first concentrate on surviving that group phase. After that, anything is possible. At the moment they’re not good enough to be amongst the favourites. This group only qualified for a World Cup, they haven’t proven anything yet but of course we have a lot of talent and with some luck they should be capable to get far. The difference between being able of achieving something and actually achieving something is big.
Do you believe that, with the majority of the players being based in the Premier League, it could have a negative impact on the squad due to the lack of a winter break?
Most of the countries’ star players have had a tough season. I don’t think this will have a bigger impact on the Belgium team than for instance on England’s, Spain’s or Germany’s team. It’s Wilmots and his staff’s task to get everybody in shape for the World Cup, mentally and physically.
How do you believe Belgium will line up at the World Cup?
Courtois is definitely Belgium’s No. 1. Defence will be Alderweireld, Kompany, Vermaelen and Vertonghen. Midfield will depend on De Bruyne’s position. If De Bruyne will be Belgium’s number ten Wilmots will play with Dembélé and Witsel in midfield. Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku will also start.
Mertens or Mirallas will play on the right if De Bruyne plays in midfield. During the World Cup qualifiers De Bruyne always played on the right. If Wilmots keeps everything the same he’ll start with Dembélé and Fellaini in midfield.
Do you believe a good World Cup for Fellaini could help keep him at Old Trafford or would Van Gaal’s opinion already be set on the matter?
I’m sure that a good World Cup would help him. Louis Van Gaal will certainly keep an eye on Fellaini’s performances. The Dutch coach probably have some players in mind he wants to buy but I think that a good performance of Fellaini could convince Van Gaal to give it a try with him.