Belgium 5-2 Tunisia: We might just have seen the World Cup winners

With goals, chances and quality in abundance, the Red Devils could finally lift the World Cup.

oliver stein by Oli Stein

REUTERS/Carl Recine 

The World Cup doesn’t tend to have surprise winners. Perhaps since West Germany defeated the Golden Team of the Hungarians to lift the Jules Rimet trophy in 1954 have we not seen something quite so extraordinary.

This was a revered Hungarian side boasting Ferenc Puskas – widely considered the best player in the world at the time – that had beaten holders Uruguay, who were unbeaten in World Cup matches, in the semi-final.

Belgium winning the 2018 World Cup wouldn’t go down in history as an achievement quite so spectacular, but, nevertheless, it would still be considered somewhat surprising. With France unconvincing, as well as Brazil and holders Germany struggling, there’s every chance the Red Devils leave Russia with a trophy in tow.

Goals. Goals everywhere

Romelu Lukaku would probably have been sitting with his head in hands on the bench as Michy Batshuayi somehow managed to hit the crossbar from two yards out when, frankly, it was easier to score.

Those are Lukaku’s Golden Ball goals.

REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

The Manchester United striker was taken off at the hour mark with another two World Cup goals to add to his initial two from Belgium’s opening day win over Panama. In Lukaku, Belgium fortunately boast a clinical finisher, especially at international level, an essential element of any tournament-winning nation.

KEY STAT: Romelu Lukaku has scored four goals from five shots across two games.

Four goals, two games. Lukaku now sits joint-top of the scoring charts with Cristiano Ronaldo as his eyes begin to fixate unerringly on the Golden Boot.

More goals than a number of teams have in the tournament as a whole, Lukaku’s four only comprise 50% of Belgium’s total, indicative of the fact that there are goals everywhere in this side.

Eden Hazard exploded into life in the 5-2 win over Tunisia, with two goals of his own – one of which came from the spot, the other was a stylish effort poked past the ‘keeper.

REUTERS/Carl Recine

Dries Mertens, additionally, got the first against Panama – a stunning strike from distance – whilst Michy Batshuayi added the last against Tunisia.

KEY STAT: Lukaku, Mertens, Hazard and Batshuayi scored a combined 106 goals in all competitions in 2017/18.

The Chelsea striker – on loan at Borussia Dortmund since January – frankly could have had a hat-trick himself, having missed two earlier clear-cut opportunities.

That in itself is astounding.

Create, create, create

Simply, Belgium create chances as if they’re going out of fashion. It’s not just the usual suspects in Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne either, as Thomas Meunier, Toby Alderweireld, Youri Tielemans and Dries Mertens all got in on the action against Tunisia.

KEY STAT: Belgium have had six different assist-makers in two games at the World Cup.

Batshuayi was guilty of profligacy, despite scoring, and had a total of six shots against Tunisia, more than any other player. He was only on the pitch for 22 minutes.

It’s examples like these that make the mind boggle over Belgium’s unrivalled ability to create, create, create.

REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

Furthermore, the Red Devils made ten key passes against Panama, and another 18 against Tunisia. Although 50% of these have come directly from De Bruyne, there’s no reason to be fearful if the Manchester City wizard is having an off day, with Hazard (6), Mertens (3) and Lukaku (2) also capable creators.

Belgium’s chances created:

  • Kevin De Bruyne – 9
  • Eden Hazard – 6
  • Dries Mertens – 3
  • Thomas Meunier – 3
  • Yannick Carrasco – 3
  • Romelu Lukaku – 2 
  • Youri Tielemans – 1
  • Toby Alderweireld – 1

In fact, 38.9% of Belgium’s chances have come from those playing in the back five, namely the wingback duo of Thomas Meunier and Yannick Carrasco.

The point to make is that with Alderweireld’s vertical passing, Hazard and De Bruyne’s vision and Carrasco and Meunier’s crossing – to sight but a few examples – there are chances coming from everywhere.

Depth for days

Dating back to the European Championship in 2016, Belgium have been touted as dark horses on the international stage due to the strength of their squad. This is the ‘golden generation’ of Belgian football.

Lukaku, De Bruyne, Hazard and Mertens are the crown jewels, naturally, but that’s not to the discredit of their squad players. For instance, Batshuayi reminded doubters of his own ability with a goal against Tunisia off the bench, whilst Tielemans, too, came on and registered an assist.

REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

When the likes of Mousa Dembele are confined to a bit-part role from the bench – the Tottenham player Mauricio Pochettino has repeatedly branded a “genius” – the strength of the squad runs severely deep.

With Vincent Kompany still to return to fitness to support Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen at the back, this Belgium side are only going to get stronger, giving Roberto Martinez all the tools for success.

Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss all the action from Day 8 of the World Cup in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.

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Oli Stein

Oli graduated from the University of Bristol with a degree in History and has worked with RealSport since September 2016. Currently assistant football editor and Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @steinoliver_

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