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De Bruyne and Lukaku out, De Ketelaere in: How will Belgium line up at the 2026 World Cup?

5:30 PM IST 03/12/22
Belgium World Cup 2026 GFX
A host of household names are unlikely to still be in the picture by the time the next global tournament rolls around for the Red Devils.

It's official, then: Belgium's 'Golden Generation' is over. Their miserable group-stage exit at the 2022 World Cup confirmed as much, as an ageing squad of star names struggled to stamp any kind of authority on the tournament before heading home after three games.

Manager Roberto Martinez has already confirmed his departure, and this will surely be the last go around for a number of the team's stalwarts.

Euro 2024 is only 18 months away, so some players might feel they have one more international tournament in them, but it feels highly unlikely that veterans like Toby Alderweireld, Axel Witsel and Jan Vertonghen will make it all the way to the 2026 World Cup.

Injuries probably mean that Eden Hazard has also played his last World Cup, while Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku will have to weigh up whether they can face another cycle while playing for what is likely to be a much-inferior team than they are used to.

That is not to say Belgium do not have talented young players coming through, with some already part of the senior international squad. But who will be lining-up for them in the United States, Canada and Mexico in 2026, presuming they qualify?

GOAL has had a go at predicting their next World Cup XI...

  • Thibaut Courtois Belgium 2022

    GK: Thibaut Courtois

    Given how well goalkeepers tend to deal with the ageing process, it would be no surprise if Courtois remains ones of the world's best in 2026.

    The Real Madrid star will be 34 but that is unlikely to be a barrier to him getting the nod between the sticks.

    If he doesn't, then his likely replacement will be Maarten Vandevoordt, who has been dubbed 'the new Courtois' after impressing for Genk and should be RB Leipzig's number one by that point, after agreeing to join the Bundesliga side from 2024 onwards.

  • Zeno Debast Belgium 2022

    CB: Zeno Debast

    Debast only became a regular in the Anderlecht first team at the start of the current season but the teenager showed enough to be named in Belgium's squad for the 2022 World Cup.

    Fast-forward three-and-a-half years, then, and the expectation will be for 'the new Vincent Kompany' to have become a mainstay of the Red Devils' defence.

    Currently most comfortable in a back-three due to his ball-playing ability, Debast will likely have developed his own game in that time, particularly if he signs for a club like Liverpool or Borussia Dortmund, who are said to be interested in him at present.

  • Wout Faes Leicester City 2022-23

    CB: Wout Faes

    Signed to help replace Wesley Fofana, Faes has been key to Leicester City's revival following their difficult start to the Premier League season, and there were some who felt he should have started at the 2022 World Cup in light of his fine form.

    He will be 28, in the middle of his prime years, at the next edition, so expect Faes to be one of the leaders of Belgium's next generation.

  • Leander Dendoncker Belgium 2022

    CB: Leander Dendoncker

    Despite being 27, Dendoncker was the junior member of the Belgium defence in Qatar, and his versatility should mean he is again involved in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

    Whether the Aston Villa man is playing more in defence or midfield come 2026 remains to be seen, but expect him to be one of the more experienced members of the Red Devils' next World Cup squad.

    Should Dendoncker not start, another option could be Arthur Theate, who was part of the 2022 squad having impressed for Rennes in Ligue 1.

  • Noah Sadiki Anderlecht 2022-23

    RWB: Noah Sadiki

    Still just 17, Sadiki has become a regular in the Anderlecht first team this season, playing in a range of positions varying from right-back to central midfield.

    He is likely to become a full-back long-term and if he continues on his current trajectory, then being in the international reckoning by 2026 should definitely be on his radar.

    An alternative option is Hugo Siquet, who caught the eye at Standard Liege before moving to Freiburg in January 2022. He has struggled for minutes in Germany, but is only 20 and has time on his side to make a push for international honours.

  • Romeo Lavia Southampton 2022-23

    CM: Romeo Lavia

    There is a belief that had Lavia not picked up a hamstring injury that ruled him out of action for two months in late-August then he would have been in Belgium's 2022 World Cup squad, so strong were his early performances for Southampton.

    The ex-Manchester City starlet has quickly established himself as a Premier League starter at the age of 18 and profiles as a mainstay of the Belgium line up for the next decade.

    If for some reason he doesn't develop into that, then Amadou Onana is a decent alternative, with the 21-year-old already now having World Cup experience after impressing in Qatar. Club Brugge teenager Noah Mbamba is another player worth keeping an eye on.

  • Youri Tielemans Belgium 2022

    CM: Youri Tielemans

    It is already expected that Tielemans will be Belgium's captain in 2026, though the Leicester City man will have to improve on what he showed in Qatar for that to be the case.

    The next World Cup promises to be Tielemans' third before the age of 30, and that experience will likely be vital for what looks set to be a relatively young squad.

    If for any reason Tielemans isn't there, then AC Milan's Alexis Saelemakers – who missed out in 2022 due to injury – is likely to be his replacement.

  • Maxim De Cuyper Westerlo 2022-23

    LWB: Maxim De Cuyper

    Timothy Castagne will only be 30 by the time the next World Cup kicks off, so the Leicester full-back may feel like he has a decent claim to still be a starter in four years' time.

    But if he isn't, then De Cuyper is a contender after making an electric start to his first season of senior football.

    On loan at KVC Westerlo from Club Brugge, the 21-year-old has registered three goals and six assists in his first 17 top-flight appearances, and is reportedly now a target for some Bundesliga clubs.

  • Yari Verschaeren Anderlecht 2022

    RW: Yari Verschaeren

    Kevin De Bruyne will turn 35 during the next World Cup, meaning it's beyond the realms of possibility that he makes it to 2026, especially if he is played in a more advanced position.

    But if we're presuming the Manchester City star has had enough of international football by then, then there are a host of potential alternatives to fill his spot in the line-up.

    Anderlecht's Verschaeren already has seven caps to his name having made his debut as an 18-year-old in 2019, and is now one of the best attacking midfielders in the Belgian Jupiler League.

    Nineteen-year-old Johan Bakayoko is another name to watch, with the winger having broken into the PSV first team this season after dominating for the club's reserve side in the Dutch second division last term.

  • Jeremy Doku Belgium 2022

    LW: Jeremy Doku

    Doku announced himself to the world with some eye-catching performances at Euro 2020, but injuries and a lack of form have slowed the speedy winger's development down.

    He was named in the 2022 World Cup squad despite barely featuring for Rennes this season and the 20-year-old will hope the past year has just been a blip rather than a sign of things to come.

    Alternatively, Leandro Trossard and Thorgan Hazard will both fancy their chances of making it to 2026, when they will be 31 and 33, respectively.

    A younger option to consider, meanwhile, is Anderlecht's Julien Duranville, who is only 16 but has already got himself a first top-flight goal, and has reportedly caught the eye of Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund's scouts.

  • Charles De Ketelaere Belgium 2022

    ST: Charles De Ketelaere

    If he makes it to 2026, then Romelu Lukaku will play at his fourth World Cup and given he will only be 33 –and younger than Robert Lewandowski is now – it is not out of the question.

    Injuries do seem to be catching up with the country's all-time top scorer, however,so younger alternatives need to be found to play as the central striker.

    Plenty of hopes are riding on De Ketelaere, who has been earmarked as the biggest Belgian talent of his generation, though the 21-year-old has made a slow start to life at AC Milan following his summer move.

    He is certainly a different type of striker than Lukaku, so if a more traditional No.9 is sought, then Lens striker Lois Openda – who is only a year older than De Ketelaere – might be considered.