(Reuters) - Belgium’s so-called golden generation has so far failed to match the hype and manager Roberto Martinez will be expected to deliver an upgrade on their previous two tournament appearances when they go to the World Cup next year.
They cruised through their qualification group, becoming the first European nation to secure their spot in Russia, but the jury is out on whether Belgium equal the sum of their parts.
A squad awash with top-level performers in the Premier League — Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Jan Vertonghen to name just a handful plus Napoli’s Dries Mertens — certainly look capable of reaching the latter stages of the finals.
The same was true four years ago in Brazil, however, when Belgium went out in timid fashion in the quarter-finals, losing 1-0 to Argentina. They were tipped as likely winners of Euro 2016 but were stunned by Wales in the last eight.
Martinez, appointed last year, has some impressive tools to work with, but the suspicion remains that Belgium, against the very best, are weak when they do not have the ball.
Manchester City’s De Bruyne, who could be one of the stars of next year’s tournament, alluded to that fact after a 3-3 draw against fellow qualifiers Mexico in a friendly this month.
“Mexico were just tactically better,” the attacking midfielder said. “As long as we don’t have a good tactical system, we will have difficulties against countries like Mexico.
“It’s a pity we have not yet found a solution. I think the trainer has to find a solution so that we can avoid such situations as against Mexico in the future.”
A few days later Lukaku scored the winner in a 1-0 defeat of Japan, making him the all-time top scorer for the Red Devils.
Martinez has some deep thinking to do before next year to make sure his side have a solid enough foundation to allow the attack to flourish and may well have to find a place for Roma’s Radja Nainggolan — a player prepared to roll up his sleeves.
If not it could be another missed opportunity for Belgium.
Editing by Clare Fallon