Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen, two potential starters in defense for Belgium, continue to be troubled by injuries that could sideline the pair for the Red Devils’ round of 16 match-up against the United States, according to reports out of Brazil. With two other Belgian defenders already ruled out, choices along the back are becoming depleted for head coach Marc Wilmots, who has had to consider employing two of his midfielders at fullback on Tuesday in Salvador.
Kompany, largely considered amongst the best defenders in the world, didn’t play against South Korea on Thursday while resting a groin injury. Also the team’s captain, the 28-year-old center back is considered questionable against the U.S.
Vermaelen suffered a hamstring strain warming up for Belgium’s second group game last Friday and had to be removed after 45 minutes. He also was rested against the Koreans but would be an option at left back should be prove healthy enough to take part.
Second choice fullback Anthony Vanden Borre is out for the rest of the competition after cracking his fibula, while Laurent Cimen is also unavailable for the team’s second round match. Among the four healthy options for Wilmots, there are no natural fullbacks, though Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen can play on the flanks.
Compensating for the lack of depth and flexibility, Wilmots has had to consider other options. From reporting by Reuters:
“I’m happy we have had an extra day’s rest because we won our group,” […]
“We still have four days. I hope most of them will be fit then.”
[…] “(Nacer) Chadli can play at right back and (Mousa) Dembele on the left of defence. I don’t see a problem. But I hope that as many as possible are available,” he told reporters.
Fullback was never an area of strength for the Belgians, who posted a perfect record in Group H largely playing central defenders out wide. With a player of Kompany’s athleticism potentially missing, that gambit takes on new risk. If opponents can take advantage of mistakes from somewhat out-of-position players, there may not be a player of Kompany’s caliber to cover.
The degree to which that’s a problem with Alderweireld and Vertonghen is debatable. Both get enough time at fullback to be comfortable at the positions. The real issue is the lack of depth. If anybody along the back four goes down (or, gets dismissed), Wilmots may be forced to consider one of his more improvised solutions.
If Kompany can play, however, the Belgian starting XI will be close to full-strength when the team kicks off against the U.S. Over 120 minutes, however, 11 may not be enough.