Thursday 06 February 2020, 16:42

Defence the key as Belgium extend reign

  • Belgium still top of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking

  • Red Devils have held the position for over a year now

  • Defensive solidity now a key strength of theirs

The year has begun with Belgium still firmly ensconced at the top of the FIFA Coca-Cola World Ranking, a lofty position they have held for over a year now, having defended their status in a hugely successful 2019. And “defend” is an appropriate word to use when it comes to discussing the world’s number one team.

The Red Devils were in hugely impressive form throughout their UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying campaign. In conceding only three goals, Belgium ended the preliminaries with the joint-best defensive record, along with Turkey, a remarkable achievement for a team renowned for their attacking prowess. We take a closer look at the reasons why.

Sticking to the gameplan

Though France and their miserly defence got the better of the Belgians in the semi-finals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, Red Devils coach Roberto Martinez saw no reason to change his tactics in the wake of that shattering defeat. His 3-4-3 continues to sparkle.

Up front the red machine is as ruthless as ever. Belgium helped themselves to 40 goals in the EURO 2020 qualifiers, more than any other side in the competition. They are every bit as effective at the back, however, as that record of only three goals conceded shows. The figure is half as many as they let in on the road to Russia 2018, in the same number of games: ten.

My team has grown in maturity, but what I really like about them is their character. Tactically, we’re getting better every day.
Roberto Martinez, speaking to Rossel media group

Spoiled for choice

Martinez’s biggest changes have come in his starting XIs, with injuries determining his choices. Former defensive mainstay Vincent Kompany has suffered more than most and made only two appearances for his country in 2019.

Jason Denayer of Olympique Lyonnais, Anderlecht’s Elias Cobbaut and Hertha Berlin’s Dedrick Boyata are all now familiar faces in the back three, along with Tottenham Hotspur duo Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, the latter is the only player to appear in all of Belgium’s ten matches in 2019.

Helping out the defence are two holding midfielders – with Youri Tielemans regularly filling one of those positions – and the two wing-backs, with Timothy Castagne recently emerging on the right and Thorgan Hazard on the left.

The team’s stronger now than it was at the World Cup. We’ve got more options and there’s more competition for places. We need to keep on working and we have to keep our guard up because this is international football. 2019 was a fantastic year. We gr...
Roberto Martinez, speaking to RTBF

Courtois on song

First-choice keeper Thibaut Courtois has had a big hand in his side’s success, keeping seven clean sheets in the nine qualifiers in which he played and conceding just two goals in total. As those statistics show, Belgium’s No1 is back on top form after a difficult few months following Russia 2018.

He has been replicating that form for his club. Just as Belgium had the tightest defence in the EURO 2020 preliminaries, so Real Madrid boast the best defensive record in Europe’s major leagues this season, having let in a mere 13 goals.

If you ask me, Thibaut Courtois has been the best keeper in the world for several years now, both at club and international level. You won’t find another goalkeeper who can face up to the challenge of keeping goal for a team that has to win every gam...
Roberto Martinez, speaking to the media