Belgium have used their third-place finish at World Cup 2018 as an effective springboard into the Nations League, in which they can secure their place in the play-offs by overcoming Iceland in Brussels on Thursday.
So well have Roberto Martinez’s side performed, they have climbed to the summit of the FIFA Rankings, reaching that pinnacle in September for just the second time in the nation’s history.
While Belgian football is on a high, the Iceland star which shone so brightly for a couple of years finds itself in danger of flickering out. They have won only once in the calendar year but are seeking to reprise the type of form that saw them reach the World Cup in order to bow out of the top tier of the Nations League on a high.
|Game||Belgium vs Iceland|
|Date||Thursday, November 14|
|Time||7:45pm GMT / 2:45pm ET|
TV Channel, Live Stream & How To Watch
In the United States (US), the game can be watchedlive on ESPN 3.
|US TV channel||Online stream|
In the United Kingdom (UK), the game can be watched live on Sky Sports Mix and livestreamed on Sky Go.
|UK TV channel||Online stream|
|Sky Sports Mix||Sky Go|
Squads & Team News
|Goalkeepers||Subasic, Benaglio, Badiashile|
|Defenders||Barreca, Jemerson, Sidibe, Raggi, Glik, Toure, Henrichs, Serrano|
|Midfielders||Aholou, N'Doram, Rony Lopes, Tielemans, Ait-Bennasser, Golovin, Chadli, Grandsir, Diop, Traore|
|Forwards||Falcao, Jovetic, Mboula, Pellegri, Diop, Sylla|
Roberto Martinez has a number of selection issues to juggle, with centre-backs Thomas Vermaelen and Jan Vertonghen both missing out due to injuries. In the midfield, meanwhile, Kevin De Bruyne is absent along with Mousa Dembele, while Crystal Palace forward Christian Benteke will have no role to play.
Marouane Fellaini, meanwhile, has not been called-up as the coach feels he would benefit from a chance to rest with Manchester United after sustaining a problem against Juventus.
Romelu Lukaku, meanwhile, is a doubt.
Possible Belgium starting XI: Courtois; Denayer, Kompany, Alderweireld; Meunier, Tielemans, Witsel, Carrasco; Hazard, Mertens; Lukaku
|Goalkeepers||Halldorsson, Kristinsson, Runarsson|
|Defenders||Saevarsson, Arnason, Skulasson, Ingason, Magnusson, Jonsson, Hermannsson, Thorarinsson|
|Midfielders||Gunnarsson, Bjarnason, G. Sigurdsson, Gislason, Trautason, Palsson, Fridjonsson, A. Sigurdsson|
|Forwards||Finnbogason, Sigthorsson, Gudmundsson, Bjarnason, Thorsteinsson|
In defence, Holmar Eyjolfsson is sidelined, while midfielders Emil Hallfredsson and Johann Gudmundsson, two of Iceland’s most experienced performers, are missing because of injury. Runar Sigurjonsson is also out.
Arnor Sigurdsson could be one of the benefactors, the 19-year-old CSKA Moscow player hopeful of making his international bow. Equally, Jon Dahur Thorsteinsson of Danish side Vendsyssel has received a call-up for the first time.
Possible Iceland starting XI: Halldorsson; Saevarsson, Arnason, Sigurdsson, Magnusson; Bjarnason, Fridjonsson, J. Gudmundsson, G. Sigurdsson, Traustason; Finnbogasson
Betting & Match Odds
Bet365 have made Belgium 1/5 favourites to win this clash. Iceland are out at 14/1 and a draw is priced at 7/1.
Rumours that Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez could be Real Madrid bound offer testimony to just what has been achieved at national team level over the course of 2018.
Many felt that they were unfortunate not to win the World Cup, coming unstuck against a pragmatic France side at the semi-final stage, and those who believe that they are the best side in world need only look at the FIFA Rankings for justification.
Since their third-place finish in Russia, the Red Devils have shown no relent in their form and, if anything, have improved.
Following an impressive friendly victory in Scotland, they went to Iceland and were resounding 3-0 winners before building on that by overcoming Switzerland last month.
The arsenal of attacking potential at the disposal of Martinez is formidable, with Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku leading the way. Indeed, the Manchester United forward has bagged doubles in both of Belgium’s Nations League fixtures to date and has five goals in his last three internationals.
Strangely, this encounter is something of a dead rubber. Iceland are already relegated, having lost their opening three fixtures, while Belgium’s finishing position in Group Two is entirely dependent upon their result with Switzerland as the crucial tiebreaker between the two sides will be head-to-head record.
Having won 2-1 against the Swiss previously, Martinez’s men stand in good stead to qualify, but could be forgiven if they do not approach this game at full throttle as a consequence.
Iceland, meanwhile, are simply seeking to regain some face after a turgid year. Qualification for the World Cup was a monumental achievement, but since beating Kosovo 2-0 in October 2017 to seal their place in Russia, they have only one win in 14 internationals – and that was against Indonesia in a match not recognised by FIFA.
There have been glimpses of the brilliance that allowed them to reach such unanticipated heights – a 1-1 World Cup draw with Argentina and a 2-2 draw with France away in October are two examples – and that is what Erik Hamren’s side are aiming for here.