AP Photo/Amel Emric

2018 World Cup preview: Belgium

1 Comment

Getting to know Belgium: If there’s a country that needs to validate itself in 2018 it is Belgium. Many nations go through phases of “golden generations” and for the Red Devils, that time is now. In Brazil, Belgium earned its best finish since the 1986 World Cup, when the team reached the quarterfinals. However, expectations have risen further for Roberto Martinez’s side as they approach this summer as one of the tournament’s favorites.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

A host of Premier League stars, including Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku lead a front line for Belgium that might be unmatched in the global game. Meanwhile, familiar faces in the back like Jan Vertonghen and captain Vincent Kompany provide a stable defensive unit to sit in front of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

For more on Belgium’s history, click this link.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

What group are they in? The Red Devils reside in Group G with England, Panama and Tunisia. That makes Belgium — currently ranked third in the latest FIFA World Rankings — the clear-cut favorites to top the group.


Game schedule – Group G – Full 2018 World Cup schedule, here

Monday, June 18: Belgium v Panama, Sochi 11 am, ET

Saturday, June 23: Belgium v Tunisia, Moscow  8 am, ET

Thursday, June 28: England v Belgium, Kaliningrad 2 pm, ET


Projected lineup (3-4-3)Check out the 23-man squad list in full

Courtois

Alderweireld ——- Kompany ———- Vertonghen

 Meunier —– De Bruyne —- Witsel —— Carrasco

Mertens —- Lukaku —- Hazard

 


Star player: Kevin De Bruyne — This is so tricky because you could easily make the case for four or five players in Belgium’s squad, but after the season De Bruyne had at Manchester City, a lot will be expected of the playmaker in Russia. He’s quick, skillful and deadly accurate in distribution, which makes him one of the most interesting talents to watch at the World Cup.


Manager: Roberto Martinez — Although he often receives heat for some of his past inconsistencies at Everton, Martinez has done quite well under Martinez’s brief tenure. That said, he hasn’t had the opportunity to manage a major competition to this point, and with the amount of skillful players in the Red Devils squad, he could be on a short leash.


Secret weapon: Michy Batshuayi — For all the skill and grace in the Belgium starting XI, there is a bit of a drop off on the bench, particularly in terms of attacking players. Batshuayi is an intriguing player because he was brilliant after moving to Borussia Dortmund on loan in 2017-18. An unfortunate injury halted him from having more success, but if he can regain his form from the Bundesliga side, Martinez could have a legitimate threat off the bench or potentially use him alongside Lukaku up front.

AP Photo/Martin Meissner

Prediction: At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Belgium should be among the favorites to hoist the World Cup, which would be the nation’s first in its history. They’re getting out of the group stage, and probably unscathed. England is solid, but if Belgium is at their best, they’re winning that match. If things shape up as expected, the Red Devils could get Brazil in the quarterfinals, which would obviously be tricky, but there’s strong belief from us that they could get beyond the last eight.

World Cup’s only black coach says there should be more

Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MOSCOW (AP) — The only black coach at this year’s World Cup says there is a need for more in soccer.

“In European countries, in major clubs, you see lots of African players. Now we need African coaches for our continent to go ahead,” Senegal’s Aliou Cisse said through a translator on Monday, a day ahead of his nation’s World Cup opener against Poland.

[ MORE: Where to watch Tuesday’s games, feat. Colombia and Egypt ]

The percentage of black players at this year’s tournament and with clubs in the world’s top leagues is far higher.

Cisse was captain of Senegal when it reached the 2002 quarterfinals in the nation’s only previous World Cup appearance.

“I am the only black coach in this World Cup. That is true,” Cisse said. “But really these are debates that disturb me. I think that football is a universal sport and that the color of your skin is of very little importance.”

[ MORE: Harry Kane “buzzing” after two goals | Southgate encouraged ]

FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cisse cited Florent Ibenge, the coach of Congo’s national team, as a sign of progress.

“I think we have a new generation that is working, that is doing its utmost, and beyond being good players with a past of professional footballers,” Cisse said. “We are very good in our tactics, and we have the right to be part of the top international coaches.”

Africa’s best performance at the World Cup has been to reach the quarterfinals, accomplished by Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“I have the certainty that one day an African team, an African country, will win the World Cup,” Cisse said. “It’s a bit more complicated in our countries. We have realities that are not there in other continents, but I think that the African continent is full of qualities. We are on the way, and I’m sure that Senegal, Nigeria or other African countries will be able win, just like Brazil, Germany or other European countries.”

A lack of minority managers also has been documented at the club level. The Sports People’s Think Tank said in November there were just three minority managers among the 92 English professional clubs as of Sept. 1.

World Cup: Saudi team safe after plane caught fire mid-flight

Photo credit: @SaudiNT
Leave a comment

The Saudi Arabian national team arrived alive and well in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on Monday after a terrifying incident that saw their plane catch fire in the air.

[ MORE: Where to watch Tuesday’s games, feat. Colombia and Egypt ]

The blaze was caused by “a technical failure in one of the airplane engines,” which the airline, Rossiya, claims was caused by a bird flying into the engine. Each of the planes engines were reportedly in operation upon landing at its final destination.

The Saudi Arabian Football Federation posted a message on Twitter later on Monday, saying they “would like to reassure everyone that all the Saudi national team players are safe, after a technical failure in one of the airplane engines that has just landed in Rostov-on-Don airport, and now they’re heading to their residence safely.”

The Green Falcons will face Uruguay in Rostov, hoping to rebound from their tournament-opening 5-0 loss to Russia on Thursday, in each side’s second game of Group A action on Wednesday (11 a.m. ET).

Seismologists clarify Mexico fans didn’t cause earthquake

Photo by Manuel Velasquez / Getty Images
Leave a comment

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s National Seismological Service says there was seismic activity around the country’s capital Sunday, but it wasn’t linked to soccer fans celebrating their country’s game-winning goal vs. Germany at the World Cup.

[ MORE: Where to watch Tuesday’s games, feat. Colombia and Egypt ]

The service says in a report that there were two small earthquakes at 10:24 a.m. and 12:01 p.m. The goal came around 11:35 a.m. local time.

A geological institute reported Sunday that seismic detectors had registered a false earthquake that may have been generated by “massive jumps” by fans.

[ MORE: Harry Kane “buzzing” after two goals | Southgate encouraged ]

Mexico’s Seismological Service explained Monday that the city’s normal bustle of traffic and other movement causes vibrations that are detected by sensitive instruments.

It says those vibrations notably quieted during the match as people gathered in front of TVs to watch, and rose after the goal.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 6 — Colombia vs. Japan; Salah’s debut?

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Day 6 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Tuesday — and would you believe it? — there’s another three games on the schedule. This whole “back-to-back-to-back games of soccer” thing isn’t so bad.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Up first, it’s the 2018 debut of Colombia, winners of tens hundreds of millions of hearts in 2014, as they take on Japan. In the day’s other Group H fixture, it’ll be Robert Lewandowski and Poland facing Sadio Mane and Senegal. Star power aplenty.

Then, we swing things back around to Group A, where the hosts Russia will look to continue their hot start against Egypt with Mohamed Salah expected to make his World Cup debut.

Below is Tuesday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Tuesday, June 19

Group H
Colombia vs. Japan: Saransk, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Poland vs. Senegal: Moscow, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group A
Russia vs. Egypt: St. Petersburg, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE