Following Belgium’s overnight emergence as a footballing superpower in 2012, they’ve been feared with the same fervour as international colossi like Germany, Brazil and Spain.
The mother of all golden ages transformed De Rode Duivels from perennial fallers at the qualification hurdle of the major tournaments to a nation guaranteed to be among pre-competition favourites. Only five countries can be backed to win Euro 2016 at a shorter price than their 11/1.
Their obscenely talented squad boasts depth that few can match, with their subs benches typically lined with players many would consider among the continent’s finest practitioners. As a result, their support in the punting stakes is easy to understand.
However, with a number of issues surrounding their franchise players, emulating part of Tottenham Hotspur’s feted 2015/16 blueprint may be key to their success.
Spurs’ defensive lynchpins Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen have formed a formidable partnership at the heart of the Premier League’s meanest defence, while marauding Mousa Dembele has done a sterling job moving between the box they guard and that of the opposition.
Due to the wealth of ability at Belgium’s disposal, these three fine footballers find themselves greatly underappreciated with the national team.
Take the team that lined up for their 1-0 loss to Wales in a Euro 2016 qualifier last June, Marc Wilmots’ side’s most important game since the World Cup.
The heralded Spurs centre-back twosome started that game, though in the full-back berths, as they frequently do when representing their country, while Dembele was on the bench.
Much has been made about how England should attempt to imitate the Lilywhites at the Euros given the raft of Tottenham stars expected to turn out for the Three Lions, but if Belgium are to trouble the trophy engravers in France this summer, replicating the north Londoners’ modus operandi will be all important.
Vertonghen and Alderweireld are forced to play at full-back to accommodate captain Vincent Kompany and another partner, usually one of Nicolas Lombaerts, Thomas Vermaelen or Jason Denayer.
With the skipper consistently struggling for fitness, Wilmots is forever rotating his centre-backs but, to achieve success over a short tournament, a settled side is paramount. Few national teams have the ability to call on a defensive duo so well acquainted with each other’s games as Belgium do and, unable to rely upon Kompany to stay healthy, they must entrust the Spurs pair to marshal the rearguard.
Similarly, few Premier League midfielders can claim to be as good going box-to-box as Dembele. Playing alongside the battering ram Radja Nainggolan and conjurer extraordinaire Kevin De Bruyne, their midfield could function exactly as Tottenham’s does.
With the trio playing so well this season while plenty of Belgian big names struggle for form or fitness – Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois, Christian Benteke, Divock Origi and, of course, Kompany among others – turning to the Spurs formula represents their best chance of success.