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Is this Belgium’s last chance for World Cup glory?

You get the sense that it is now or never for Belgium at the Qatar World Cup. Having come third in the 2018 tournament, the European powerhouse looked to have had the perfect blend of potential and experience, with Vincent Kompany’s side just 90 minutes away from the final. However, a defeat to France ensured they would miss the big night in Moscow, and now as Roberto Martinez leads an ageing side to the Middle East, you wonder if their Golden Generation can live up to the hype for those making a World Cup 2022 bet.

The likes of Thibaut Courtois and Youri Tielemans are still in the side, but you wonder if they can gather the momentum that helped them reach the semi-finals in 2018.

As the Red Devils gear up for their last big campaign on the world’s stage, Martinez is still confident this is a group that can achieve something. Not fazed by the ageing core, the Spaniard knows this is a team with a great mentality, more than capable of learning from their shortcomings in Russia. “There has been an evolution,” he said. “I think we have improved in the competitive nature of having three players for every position.

“It is becoming harder to reduce our list to 26 players, even in goal. Everyone is growing, developing and progressing in their roles.

“Even in the last game in our qualification campaign, we were able to make a lot of changes and maintain our level and way of playing. I have been here since 2016 and you can start to see that we are working in a way that every player comes in knowing what is expected.”

Stylistically, Belgium have set up slightly differently for their build-up to Qatar compared to Russia. In their last-four exit to France, they relied on the industry and dribbling of Eden Hazard, but with the Real Madrid man struggling for form, his younger brother Thorgan, currently of Bundesliga outfit Borussia Dortmund, has stepped up to the mantle. Similarly, Romelu Lukaku’s absence from the side with injury has paved the way for Kevin De Bruyne to move into a false nine position — collecting the ball in deeper areas and using his passing range and elegant movement to wreak havoc. It’s a big reason why World Cup tips are backing them to be so successful in open games.

International form is something else that is interesting to unpack. While they were beaten by the Netherlands in their last match in the Nations League, that was just their second defeat since October 2021, and while dispatching the likes of Poland and Burkina Faso were straightforward tasks, it has shown that Martinez’s side can put away teams that sit deeper.

Although they are no longer amongst the favourites to win the tournament, with football betting odds tipping the likes of Brazil and Argentina to go to distance in Qatar, that outsider status might benefit them towards the latter stages. Indeed, the Red Devils have had so much hype given their squad’s potential for almost a decade now, and playing with the pressure off could allow them to relax and find their groove as the tournament progresses. Only time will tell how far they go.