Brazil 2050 – World Cup Open Thread
Belgium Squad Review; World Cup Preview.
It was nearly 8 years ago that we agreed to take the helm of the Belgian national team.
We’ve won Euro 2044, Euro 2048, and two Nations League titles. Ever since we were eliminated from the 2046 World Cup on penalties by Portugal, though, the 2050 World Cup has been in the back of my mind. A chance for redemption.
We enter the tournament as the odds-on favorites. After all, we’ve sat atop the FIFA rankings for years.
Since our appointment, our record is unmatched — 98 matches played. 86 wins, 7 draws, 5 losses. We’ve only lost 1 match in open play since November 2042 — the 2049 Nations League semifinals loss to Germany in extra time.
Our only other two “losses” since November 2042 have been on penalties — the aforementioned loss to Portugal at the 2046 World Cup, and a loss to France in the 2047 Nations League semifinals.
We are ready this year. More than ready. We were dominant in our pre-tournament friendlies — steamrolling 18th ranked Senegal, 3-1, before leaving it late against 35th-ranked Paraguay, 1-nil.
Our primary tactic will be PM Haaienkanon, the Nagelsmann-inspired tactic detailed in Those Who Do Not Move Do Not Notice Their Chains, in both its strikerless and “inverted strikerless” forms, the latter of which is better suited for matches when our opponents are looking to park the bus.
When, in contrast, we want to park a tank in front of our goal, I may switch into PM Haaientand, the strikerless 3331 I developed in collaboration with Guido Merry and Gareth Clarke (detailed in The Dirty Half Dozen).
Let’s take a brief look at the squad — one that will be familiar to anyone who has followed the Belgians’ progress over the years.
In goal, we have a number of familiar names for anyone following this save. Luca Bertini remains our starter, with Lucas Iket a capable backup. The only concern here is that Bertini has just recovered from injury — torn wrist ligaments, that kept him out for the latter half of April and most of May.
Matheo Martin also travels to Brazil — he has been in virtually each and every squad I’ve named over the last 8 years, and still hasn’t won his first cap. It won’t happen in Brazil. At least, I hope it won’t…if he’s on the pitch, we’re in serious trouble.
Looking to the future, the only player who will age-out for 2054 is Martin.
Our starting back 3 is the same as it was for the 2048 Euros. Sam Lambrecht at libero, with Guy Vervoort and Brent De Coene at centerback. The backups are also the same, with Yves Buisson at libero, and Robert Olive and Friedrich Mangala at centerback.
Overall, we have tremendous depth in defense. This will be the last major tournament of Olive’s international career, but the rest could still be in the squad in 4 years’ time. We also have tremendous depth in the national pool, just waiting to step in if anyone falters. (Mandelli taking over for Willems in the 2nd XI is a good example of our depth.)
Our starters at mezzala continue to be Fabrizio Rigamonti and Dany Maes. Maes is our captain, and is everything we could ask for at mezzala. Jelle Dierickx and Thomas Borremans are the extremely capable backups. This group will need to have a strong tournament, as all of our tactics rely on the mezzalas getting forward aggressively, hitting the channels on the dribble and as third-men-running.
This is Simon’s swan song with the Belgians. Other than that, our midfield should all return for the next World Cup cycle.
Attacking Midfielders / Pressing Forwards
Up top, the diminutive Hans De Boeck and Mamadu Fati will lead the attack. They’re both devastating, versatile players who can do just about anything — including play a role in our traditional midfield. In Brazil, they will need to score, create chances for others and harry the opposition. Hicham Benali and Tom Coste are the backups here — Benali is the more versatile of the two, while Coste has a nose for goal.
Again, all 4 of these players can feature in the next World Cup cycle…if someone else doesn’t pass them by.
This is a much deeper, more seasoned side than the one that had its heart broken in South Korea. Anything less than winning the title will be a disappointment.
Colombia and Congo should prove straightforward opposition in Group O, in terms of advancing.
We play on the first and third dates in the fixture calendar, which means that we’ll have less rest than others in the knockout rounds. It isn’t ideal. But it is what it is. It’s go time.
An epic first day, as hosts Brazil lose to Turkey, 2-nil. Luckily for Victor Bobsin, few will be talking about this loss after New Zealand’s comeback to claim a draw against Italy.
With upsets in the air (including Russia’s 2-1 win over Argentina), we set out against Colombia determined not to fall prey to the trend. Zlatan gets the lads fired up, promising that anyone who fails to show up will need to find their own way home.
I question the efficacy of this threat, given the salaries of modern footballers, but I need not worry. It is an empty threat. And one we will not need to enforce, as we smash 3 early goals en route to an emphatic 4-1 win, the only blemish coming when Jorge Hernandez pulls one back for Colombia. I cannot begrudge Jorge his goal. He’s a good lad, even if he just left Fiorentina for West Ham in a $158M deal.
Against Congo, we come up against another familiar face in Fred Sembolo, our keeper at Stade de Reims, who has since moved on to Stuttgart. Fred is easily Congo’s best player, and the only reason the match isn’t far uglier. We’ll take a 2-nil win, which seals the Group.
We will face the Americans in the Second Round.
Zlatan knows what I’m thinking, even before I say a word. He starts to hum before Jesse takes the lead on vocals.
“On a warm summer’s evening, on a train bound for nowhere, I met up with a gambler, we were both too tired to sleep.”..
They’re not wrong. Against the United States, we will play the long game. We will rotate the squad, playing our 2nd XI.
Hicham Benali starts us off on the right foot, with a goal in the 8th minute. When Coste buries a 19th minute penalty, Zlatan can’t help but start singing all over again, with the whole bench joining in.
Things got a little dicey in the 56th when Webber hit a thunderbastard out of nowhere to make it a one-goal match, but we steady the ship and see out the match.
A 2-1 win. We will face the Ivory Coast, my former side which features any number of instantly-recognizable faces and eliminated Chile 2-1 behind two goals from Anicet Toure.
Defending champions Portugal are eliminated, as are Argentina and Croatia.
The leading goalscorer at this junction is a brilliant Partizan prospect, Slavko Karaklajic, that I previously tried to sign at Fiorentina, but Partizan wouldn’t budge on a 9-figure transfer fee. Meanwhile, I just want to retrain him to play as a libero…
The match against the Ivorians is a nervy affair and, even though we control, we struggle to break though unti the 41st minute when Bruyere finds Fati on a cutback. 1-nil.
A back-and-forth match ensues, until Maes threads a through ball to Fati in the 64th, who is cruelly hacked down in the box. Maes buries the ensuing penalty to make it 2. We’ve got one foot in the semifinals.
The match is over in the 68th when De Boeck rises to head home from 8 yards. 3-nil.
Cruelly, we are awarded a penalty in the 77th minute. A stone-cold penalty, but it is merely insult to injury. Rigamonti buries it. My heart hurts for the Ivorians, many of whom were in our World Cup-winning side from 2042.
Fati hits our 5th in the 89th minute, a loose ball falling to him at the top of the box, hit low shot finding its way through a forest of legs, nestling firmly in the back of the net. The Ivorians’ humiliation is complete.
Familiar faces again, in Felix Leon and Flavio Rojas, the latter of which has expressed a desire to move to pastures new, with only one year left on his contract. I’ll not begrudge him a move, provided that a decent offer arrives.
We will have to chase the game in the 2nd half. Bekaert and Bruyere enter the fray at the interval. Benali replaces Fati shortly thereafter.
De Boeck pulls us level in the 67th, another header from the diminutive forward.
The ball is in the back of the net minutes later, but Lambrecht is ruled offside. So close. We can taste it.
But we cannot find a goal. We head to extra time. De Coene replaces the tiring Lambrecht. In the 102nd minute, the substitute — normally a starter — rises at the near post to meet a Maes corner, nodding home to make it 3-2. Squeaky bum time in Sao Paolo.
A late surge from El Tri is not enough. We’re dead on our feet when the final whistle blows. Through to the semifinals, 3-2.
We will face Kieran McKenna’s Netherlands, who eliminated Jony’s Spain 1-nil with a 119th minute goal. Tired legs should make for an open game. Steven Berghuis’ England will face Marc Hornschuh’s Germany in the other semifinal.
We have no choice but to restore Tant and Mandelli to the lineup, and rotate at the back. Our only hope is that the Dutch are equally pressed by their extra time match against Spain.
The early minutes are all Belgium, as Fati hits the outside of the post in the 10th. He should have done better. In the 30th minute, we strike. Olive rising up to head home a corner from Rigamonti. We nearly extend our lead on the stroke of halftime, but the whistle blows for a foul on the Dutch keeper.
We need to find another goal. While we are controlling, the margins are too thin.
We hit the post again in the 51st. Another goal is coming. The big question being whether we will find it, or if the Dutch will hit us in transition. It is the Dutch, winning a corner on the break, with Clement heading home from close range, although it is credited as an own goal from Simon.
But we’re not dead in the water, as Maes flicks a header through the outstretched arms of the Dutch keeper in the 59th to restore our lead. 2-1. A captain’s goal from our midfield talisman.
The Dutch should be level in the 88th minute, but former Stade de Reims midfielder Tom Clement smashes it wide, with Bertini beaten in our goal. It is their final chance. The whistle blows. 2-1. We’re through to the final, to face ze Germans, who beat England in a rearguard action, 1-nil.
90 minutes. That is all that stands between us and possible World Cup glory. Well, 90 minutes and 11 angry Germans. (They really don’t like the fake German accent Zlatan keeps using in his savage TikTok videos, mocking their tactical acumen, questioning their paternity, and denigrating the very purpose of schnitzel.)
For their part, Maes and De Boeck are in the mix for the Golden Ball, sitting with 6 other players on 5 goals.
Our 1st XI will take the field. We need a big performance. To cure years of heartbreak. Tired legs mean nothing. Destiny is all.
Zlatan’s pre-match speech is a veritable TED Talk, based on a series of half-truths, exaggerations and outright lies regarding Germany’s invasion of Belgium in August 1914. I’m no historian, but I’m relatively certain that Pearl Harbor had nothing to do with it. Regardless, the lads were rather fired up.
And we strike first. Mamadu Fati beating his man in the corner, to find De Boeck for a glancing near-post header, ze German keeper frozen in goal. At 5’4″, the man is a goliath. A living demonstration that size doesn’t matter.
Minutes later, Rigamonti feeds Fati who smashes the ball near-post…only for the linesman’s flag to rise. Offsides.
The halftime whistle blows, with little fanfare to show for it. The sizzle has gone out of the match, and we will not object. The question is simply whether ze Germans will launch a counteroffensive, and how.
Tired legs, but we’re 45 minutes from our goal. I’d like to think that Zlatan’s political cartoon on the whiteboard, mocking the Kaiser while casually rhyming ‘wahnsinnig’ had an effect. But only time will tell.
An hour gone, and the rhythms of the game have not changed. But we need to ring the changes, to ensure that we do not give ze Germans an edge. A double substitution. Lars Tant replaces Simon, as Borremans replaces Rigamonti. A standing ovation meeting these two giants as they leave the pitch, in what will be their final match for Belgium.
But before they can regain their footing, Fati launches a penetrative run down the right flank, centering…Erdem Guder’s attempted clearance falling to Borremans, who strikes through the ball, driving it into the back of the net, payback for 1914 in his heart. Three nil.
There are 25 minutes to play. But the match is over. Bertini snuffs out two half-hearted German attacks, before Olive replaces De Coene in the 76th minute — one last appearance for the Monaco captain.
The match is over. We have done it. 8 years after arriving, 4 years after the heartbreak of a penalty-shootout loss. Belgium are the World Cup champions.
All 3 are joined by De Coene in the World Cup Dream Team, which inexplicably contains 6 German players. It is a final slap in the face. The bias at FIFA, unmistakable. But we have the last laugh.
We’ve met our goals. There is nothing further to accomplish with the Belgians. Though everyone knows that our resignation is imminent, nothing could detract from the celebrations. Several players manage to sneak some of our more “enthusiastic” supporters onto the official flight home, which resembles that scene from The Wolf of Wall Street, only more debauched.
Zlatan, Jesse and I sit in the front, the curtain drawn and tied (double knots) to prevent Zlatan from being distracted by the “celebrations.”
Our resignations have been formally tendered. And we must focus.
We host Marcelo Gallardo’s OH Leuven in six days, for the Belgian Super Cup. And we aren’t going to give that snide **** and his horde of merry hipsters one single inch.
If you’ve stumbled upon this post and are finding yourself a bit confused… Don’t worry. The basic concept behind the Nearly Men save is explained here. Just need to catch up? Each installment in Nicolaj Bur’s story can be accessed through the Nearly Men Archive.
And if you just can’t get enough…join us for The Ballad of Toothless Bob, a series that explores the world of Nicolaj Bur, away from the pitch. What is Project Arcturus? What lies beyond the twisted redstone door, deep in the bowels of the Santiago Bernabéu?