What Christian Benteke injury means for Belgium at World Cup
Belgium, 14/1 to win the World Cup at their first appearance at the finals for a dozen years, have lost striker Christian Benteke as the Aston Villa star ruptured his achilles tendon in training.
Coral experts recently reviewed the worst kept secret in world football – the strength in depth available to Belgium national coach Marc Wilmots. Is that still the case for the single spot up front, now Benteke will be watching goings on in Brazil from afar with the rest of us?
First and foremost it means, provided he too does not succumb to injury, that Romelu Lukaku, on loan at Everton from Chelsea, will lead his country’s line. He has a dozen Premier League goals in 26 outings this season, and netted as many in qualifying as Benteke.
Lukaku’s match-winning brace in hostile Croatian cauldron the Maksimir booked Belgium’s spot at the World Cup. That performance was compelling evidence that he at the tender age of 20 (although he turns 21 before the finals) can deliver on the big stage.
He is 33/1 to win the Golden Boot in Brazil.
Jose Mourinho may not have been convinced that Lukaku was ready to spearhead his Blues attack at Stamford Bridge, but his current striking woes may not exist had he placed a little more faith in youth.
Temporary Goodison Park teammate Kevin Mirallas (80/1 to be World Cup top scorer) is an existing alternative up top within the current squad for Wilmots to consider. He deputised for his compatriot at club level in this role when injury meant Roberto Martinez could not call on Lukaku.
Eden Hazard (another 33/1 shot for the Golden Boot) being pushed up as a false number nine is also a possibility. Mourinho has seldom used him like this at Chelsea, as ‘the Special One’ gets the best of him coming from wide areas or playing off the front.
If an aerial bombardment is a go-to tactic Wilmots wants to employ, then there’s always Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini. Both club and country share the nickname Red Devils, but his confidence is low after struggling to make an impression at Old Trafford.
On the fringes is Genk striker Jelle Vossen. The 25-year-old is yet to leave domestic Belgian football, however, but posts a return of a goal every other game (five in 10) in the Europa League.
In Belgium’s top flight, however, he has been overshadowed by leading marksman Michy Batshuayi. This 20-year-old, linked with Everton and Arsenal, is uncapped at senior level, but has broken the 20-goal barrier in all competitions for Standard Liege.
Wilmots may now have a free spot to blood youths like Batshuayi, uncapped Club Bruges winger Maxime Lestienne, PSV Eindhoven teenager Zakaria Bakkali or even United youngster Adnan Januzaj, who has yet to nail his international colours to the mast.
Far from being broken without Benteke, Belgium’s strength in depth should only be reinforced in the minds of punters by his World Cup absence. Expect them to make easy work of beating Algeria in their opening game at the finals at 2/5.
Back Belgium for victory in that first Group H match 1-0, or 2-0 at equal 5/1 prices. Wilmots’ side are odds-on favourites to win the pool at 8/13, and qualify for the knockout phase at 1/6.