Belgian starting XI still not finalised
Apart from a few minor scares in training, all seems well in the Belgium camp. Both Kevin De Bruyne and Divock Origi limped out of fiercely competed five-a-side sessions yesterday. The Belgian press, of course, did its work blowing up that news, but it has meanwhile been established that both are fit; the only injury news is that third goalkeeper Sammy Bossut is carrying a slight knock.
The Belgian players certainly look hungry for action. There was firm tackling in yesterday's sessions, accompanied by some strong discussion now and again. The rule was no more than two touches, and when Marouane Fellaini scored, there was a strongly worded debate among players as to the number of touches the Manchester United man took. It an example of the side's passion and desire to get going.
Mousa Dembele was picked in one of the five-man teams, along with Axel Witsel and De Bruyne, who are both on manager Marc Wilmots' list of "untouchables." This fuels speculation that the Tottenham midfielder might start against Algeria. However, Dembele is often criticised for being "too lateral." And it is true that while Dembele is a fabulous player, he often lacks a sense of urgency and directness -- his game lacks penetration.
Given that Algeria will most likely keep all but a lone striker behind the ball and try to hit Belgium on the break, it's not an easy choice. Dembele offers a sense of responsibility on the ball. It is almost impossible to take possession from him, and his distribution is excellent. He has that in common with Witsel, who would lie deeper in midfield; deploying the pair could be a way of passing Algeria into submission.
Then again, there is Fellaini. His disappointing season at Manchester United has been well documented, and he's taken more than his fair share of the blame for the club's misfortune, but Fellaini didn't suddenly turn into a bad player once he moved to Old Trafford.
He was immense at Everton, and it's quite astounding that David Moyes, the man who managed him at Goodison Park, brought him to United and consistently played him out of position. Fellaini is best deployed as a box-to-box player. Pushing him further forward, in support of Romelu Lukaku, gives Belgium even more options, considering his stature.
Surely Wilmots knows who will play come Tuesday. And quite probably, Algeria know too. Aside from central midfield, there's just a single question about the Belgian starting XI.
Central defenders by trade, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen line up as full-backs, but who will partner Vincent Kompany in the heart of defence? That seems to be between Thomas Vermaelen and the most experienced player and joint top scorer of the squad, Daniel van Buyten. Given that Van Buyten has seen much more playing time in in the past three friendlies, it looks as though he will get the nod.
Much maligned in Belgium, you could almost say that Van Buyten is the scapegoat for Belgium's years in the dark. He has been blamed for everything that's gone wrong for the national side. Looking at the statistics, though, Belgium won more with Van Buyten in the side than they did without him -- and that even accounts for all those games he played with the misfiring Red Devils before Wilmots took over.
Van Buyten's most valuable asset is his experience. This is a very talented team, but Van Buyten is the only player with real tournament experience. In 2002, he largely marked Ronaldo out of Belgium's round-of-16 encounter with Brazil. Wilmots could use Van Buyten to steady the nerves of the younger players. Even if many Belgian fans don't respect him, the players certainly do.
But whether it's Van Buyten or Vermaelen, Dembele or Fellaini, Belgium should go into their first game looking to win and win by some margin. Algeria is the weakest opponent in Group H, and if they aren't dispatched with ease, the Belgian press and naysayers will have a field day.
Wim Van Walle has contributed to ESPNFC since 2010. Back in 1980, his passion for football was decided by the teams of the day. And apparently it stuck. Three decades later, Van Walle is still as passionate about Belgium's Red Devils and Nottingham Forest.