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The 2022 World Cup will likely be the last for Belgium’s “Golden Generation.” While early-30s stars like Kevin De Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois, Eden Hazard, and Romelu Lukaku could play in North America in 2026, the mid-30s Red Devils like Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, and Dries Mertens will likely join their former teammates such as Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen, and Marouane Fellaini, who are watching World Cup 2022 from home.

That makes this year’s World Cup the most important in Belgian history. Can this generation of stars, who finished third in 2018, make one last run at the trophy? Or are these players just doomed always to be an afterthought in the world’s biggest soccer tournament?

Belgium’s World Cup 2022 squad

Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid), Koen Casteels (VfL Wolfsburg), Simon Mignolet (Club Brugge)

Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Antwerp), Timothy Castagne (Leicester), Zeno Debast (Anderlecht), Wout Faes (Leicester), Thomas Meunier (Borussia Dortmund), Arthur Theate (Rennes), Jan Vertonghen (Anderlecht)

Midfielders: Yannick Carrasco (Atletico Madrid), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Leander Dendoncker (Aston Villa), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Dortmund), Amadou Onana (Everton), Youri Tielemans (Leicester), Hans Vanaken (Club Brugge), Axel Witsel (Atletico Madrid)

Forwards: Michy Batshuayi (Fenerbahce), Charles De Ketelaere (AC Milan), Jeremy Doku (Rennes), Eden Hazard (Real Madrid), Romelu Lukaku (Inter Milan), Dries Mertens (Galatasaray), Lois Openda (Lens), Leandro Trossard (Brighton)

Thibaut Courtois is the backbone of the Golden Generation

There isn’t any drama about who will be the Belgian keeper in World Cup 2022 in Qatar. Thibaut Courtois is the Real Madrid No. 1 and, at 30, is squarely in his prime. However, he is struggling in La Liga this season, with 12 goals conceded in 10 games.

When people talk about the Belgian Golden Generation, Courtois is a big piece of that. Belgium would not be where they are, ranked No. 2 in the FIFA World Rankings, without a world-class shot-stopper between the sticks.

That said, as good as Courtois is with his hands, his feet are another story. Every once in a while, Courtois will try to do his best Ederson impersonation and play out of the back. That rarely goes well and can lead to a costly mistake. If he’s not stopping shots right now, that could be a significant problem, and manager Roberto Martinez could see if he can get a hot hand in Koen Casteels or Simon Mignolet.

Babies and grandpas on defense

The back three of Belgium is the biggest question mark of the 2022 World Cup. Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen would be the Golden Generation picks, but it’s not 2018 at Tottenham anymore.

Those two defensive stalwarts are now in their mid-30s, have both noticeably declined, and play back in their home country these days at Antwerp and Anderlecht, respectively. We’ll likely see the nostalgic duo together at some point in the tournament, but the best Belgium starting lineup doesn’t include both of them.

Leicester City CB Wout Faes is 24 years old and in great form heading into the World Cup, so he’ll likely be one of the first-choice central defenders. Then, there is 19-year-old phenom Zeno Debast, who plays with Vertonghen at Anderlecht. An outstanding performance from him in the next month could lead to a big European transfer in January.

As for the wing-backs in Roberto Martinez’s 3-4-3, Timothy Castagne and Thomas Meunier should hold those roles down to start each match.

This is Kevin De Bruyne’s World Cup 

The Belgian midfield is deep, talented, and versatile, but this World Cup is all about Manchester City ace Kevin De Bruyne.

A headliner of the Golden Generation, De Bruyne, at 31, is considered a slight notch below some of the best players in the world, like Lionel Messi, Cristian Ronaldo, Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, and Luke Modric.

This tournament will be the perfect time to put himself on that level if he can carry his country to a finals or better finish. If not, he probably never will, and a 1B player will be his ultimate legacy.

As for the rest of the midfield, Youri Tielemans and Axel Witsel will make up the double pivot in the center of the Belgian team, while Yannick Carrasco will sub in at wing-back, and Leander Dendoncker will do the same in central defense when the team needs some more offensive pop.

Are Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku still superstars? 

Kevin De Bruyne of Belgium is celebrating his goal with Eden Hazard (c) of Belgium ahead of World Cup 2022
Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne | Joris Verwijst/BSR Agency/Getty Images

Eden Hazard, Real Madrid’s €115.00 million man, is languishing on Los Blancos’ bench, playing just six of the team’s 20 matches in La Liga and Champions League thus far. In Italy, Romelu Lukaku has just five appearances in Inter Milan’s 21 Serie A and UCL matches. However, that is primarily due to a nagging hamstring injury.

Either way, the fact is that the last two pieces of the Golden Generation are in terrible form and haven’t played much at all this season. Together, Hazard and Lukaku have three goals and two assists in professional football this year.

These two will get their chances in Qatar, but if they don’t perform, how quickly Martinez yanks them and puts in players like Michy Batshuayi and Dries Mertens could determine Belgium’s success.

What will the Belgium lineup look like in Qatar?

Belgium starting 11 World Cup 2022 - Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard
Predicted Belgium starting 11 – World Cup 2022 |

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Roberto Martinez doesn’t hold a lot of secrets close to the vest when it comes to the Belgian formation and lineup. He’s going to play a 3-4-3, and he’s going to (mainly) play it with these players.

And while Kevin De Bruyne is nominally listed as a right winger in Belgian formations, you will see him roam all over the pitch in an attempt to control the flow of the match. That’s why Yannick Carrasco will often come in at right wing-back to fill in for KDB in a more forward role.

Other than that, the only initial question marks are in defense. Is the teenager Zeno Debast ready for a starring role? Do Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen have one last stand in them?

As the tournament goes along, though, it will be interesting to see if Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku can regain their star form and, if not, how Martinez responds lineup-wise.