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Belgium’s World Cup run makes absolutely no sense but that’s why we love football

From Nacer Chadli at wing-back to Marouane Fellaini the midfield general, Belgium are doing things their way

Ahh football, you completely bonkers b*****d.

Belgium came into the 2018 World Cup not so much as dark horses but more slightly ginger, red faced horses.

With Kevin De Bruyne pulling the strings and Eden Hazard whirring around Belgium were always likely to be hard to beat.


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How big is your mouth, Kevin?

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How big is your mouth, Kevin?

So it’s no surprise that Roberto Martinez’s are in the semi-finals after seeing off Brazil, right?

Not quite.

The methods that have brought Belgium to a place in the last four of the World Cup have been, on paper, slightly bonkers.

Luckily for Belgium, football isn’t played on paper.

Let’s start with the coach. His modest managerial trophy cabinet includes a League One trophy and an FA Cup.

The Spaniard navigated through English football’s lower leagues with an aesthetically pleasing style of play but was more rigid at Wigan and thoroughly turgid at Everton.

Hardly the man *on paper* to take Belgium’s ‘golden generation’ forward.

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Then there’s Belgium’s midfield.

Martinez can call upon Mousa Dembele, one of the most unique footballers of his generation and a player who possesses the same talent as Ronaldinho and Diego Maradona, according to Mauricio Pochettino.

Radja Nainggolan was left at home, where he swiftly completed a big money move from Roma to Inter Milan.

Instead the men running Belgium’s engine room against Brazil were Axel Witsel and Marouane Fellaini.

Job done

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Job done

Witsel, once tipped to be a true great of Belgian football, has just finished his second season in the Chinese Super League while Fellaini is, well, Fellaini.

But Martinez’s selections proved inspired.

Whenever Neymar and Philippe Coutinho started ominously shuffling inside to create an opening Witsel and Fellaini were on hand to break the move down, both legally and illegally.

It wasn’t quite the balletic poise of Dembele, or the snarling aggression of Nainggolan, but it more than got the job done and allowed De Bruyne, Hazard and Romelu Lukaku to thrive.

Light work for Romelu

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Light work for Romelu

The selection that really would have left Paul Merson gasping for air came in the shape of Nacer Chadli.

This is an attacking midfielder who just suffered relegation with West Brom, playing four games across the entire Premier League season. Note the words ‘attacking midfielder‘.

And yet here he is popping up at left wing-back having the game of his life.

Football. It’s a funny old game.

‘The new Marcelo’

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‘The new Marcelo’