No goals. No assists. And Belgium on the brink of an early exit, the World Cup is not going well for Kevin De Bruyne and the Belgian national team. Ranked as the second best team in the world at the moment by FIFA, The Red Devils were expected to challenge for the title.
The country parades some of the best players in the world at the moment drawn from top European clubs like Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Inter Milan, Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City. High expectations have accompanied the team for the better part of the last decade.
Finishing third in the 2018 edition of the tournament hosted by Russia raised hopes of doing even better in subsequent tournaments. Hence, the team went to Qatar as one of the favourites.
Key players like De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois were expected to carry the team on their shoulders all the way to victory. But the team struggled to secure a 1-0 win against Canada in its opening game. After the match, the Belgium coach confessed that his team performed poorly and did not deserve to win.
While captain Eden Hazard has been out of form and struggling for match fitness since moving to the Spanish capital and Rumelu Lukaku has been injured for months leading to the tournament, De Bruyne has been shining in the Premier League with Manchester City.
The midfielder was expected to pull strings in the middle of the park and provide the assists and goals that will take his team to the next level. Unfortunately he has failed to replicate the form which has seen him contribute three goals and nine assists in 14 Premier League appearances for City this season.
Things got worse for the Belgians when they lost 2-0 to Morocco in their second group game. It was a game in which the African side fully deserved the victory.
In trying to explain why key players like De Bruyne have so far performed below expectations, manager Roberto Martinez blamed it on the weight of expectations being too heavy for his players to bear.
“We haven’t seen the best of Belgium yet,” said Martinez. “We are not at our best. It’s not just Kevin, it’s the whole team. We didn’t play with freedom. Football is a team sport and when it works together the individual can reach a higher level.”
“I don’t see us enjoying our football or playing with joy. We don’t play with joy and maybe that’s because of the weight we are carrying on our shoulders. We’ve played the last two games like we have something to lose. It’s not a lack of quality or the technical aspect.”
Meanwhile the City midfielder has already given up on the prospect of achieving success in Qatar. He believes the team is too old to win the World Cup. The 31-year-old stated after the win against Canada that there was “no chance” Belgium would win the World Cup as the squad is “too old”.
But considering that Belgium’s squad is the fifth-oldest in the tournament behind Iran, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, one could conclude that the team is suffering from a lack of self-belief and De Bruyne is just looking for excuses to explain away the expected failure within the group even before it happens.
With that kind of mindset, it would be difficult to perform well and achieve much in the tournament. But perhaps the players can rise to the occasion in the last group game against Croatia and go on to prove themselves wrong by breaking loose from the shackles that have held them down so far.