Belgium test for England?

Most believe Belgium will be England's toughest test in the group stage

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What sort of test will Belgium pose to England at the World Cup?

By Joe Harker

There are always a few surprises in the World Cup group stages but most would expect England and Belgium to make it through their group occupying the top spots, thus ensuring promotion to the first knockout round.

Many suspect that both nations will win their games against Tunisia and Panama, therefore making the clash between the two sides the decider for who tops the group.

The Belgians are enjoying something of a golden generation at the moment, boasting impressive attacking talents like Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne, while their midfield and defence are similarly impressive. They have players that are the envy of many other nations but as with every team blessed with a crop of excellence the expectations are suddenly much higher.

In their World Cup qualifiers the only team they dropped points against was Greece during a 1-1 draw, though the nature of the qualifiers means they did not face fearsome opposition. The likes of Gibraltar and Cyprus aren't likely to trouble Belgium.

Writing in The Sportsman, Graham Ruthven argues that this Belgium side are in danger of wasting the chance of a lifetime, suggesting that national team manager Roberto Martinez doesn't know what shape his team will take. Pointing towards the recent 0-0 friendly with Portugal, Ruthven suggests that Belgium still look like a team of talented individuals rather than a fluid team that knows how to play together.

The Daily Mail also questioned Martinez's "naive tactics", suggesting his gameplan of all out attack will falter against tougher nations than they have faced in the qualifiers. They should get out of their group but from then on their offensive tactics could be found out by better nations that know how to exploit reckless opponents.

However, in the aftermath of their 3-0 victory against Egypt, The Daily Telegraph suggests that Belgium have stumbled upon the winning formula at just the right time. If that is the case then fortune favours the Belgians and they could end up going far. Whether they top their group or not the teams they might face in the first knockout round are nations Belgium should be beating, though the prospect of a clash with Brazil or Germany in the quarter finals will be a better sign of how prepared this side is.

Despite this, there is one running theme that even the manager seems to accept will be Belgium's biggest challenge: mental fragility. Martinez believes his side need to overcome a mental barrier if they are to progress to the latter stages of the World Cup and stand a chance of winning it. He said: "We need to learn how to be a winning team.

"We've got exceptional talent, but talent on its own is not enough to win a major tournament. We've never had the direction before."

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