JOHANNESBURG – Kalusha Bwalya is excited by the prospect of the World Cup having a new winner. And he believes Belgium could well fulfill that role.
As the global soccer showpiece hosted by Russia goes into the semi-final stage today, the Zambian legend says he would not be surprised if the final was to be contested by first-timers in Belgium and Croatia.
“Is it possible that we can have a new winner? I certainly think so. Belgium have been very impressive. They have always had potential and in 2014 (World Cup) and 2016 (European Championships) they did not live up to that promise. But in Russia they have shown they are ready to deliver,” he said.
“When they were 2-0 down against Japan, sure some of us remained hopeful they could come back. But I don’t think anyone thought they would do so as spectacularly as they did. It was very impressive.”
Having played his club football in Belgium for nearly four years (1985-1989), Bwalya cannot help but marvel at the transformation of the country’s football.
“Of course the Belgian league has always been strong. But back then they used to focus a lot on defence, their clubs generally playing the 4-4-2 or 5-4-1 formations. Now, thanks to the foundations set by my former coach Georges Leekens who worked with Marc Wilmots as national team coaches, they are a very attacking team. There is a lot of creativity in their play.”
Having closely watched Belgium’s progress at Russia 2018, the former African Footballer of the Year is impressed by the boys’ confidence - no matter the opposition.
“A lot of the boys in the team play their club football in England where they are all doing very well and it has been great to see them all bring their club form to the national side,” he said. “They have a lot of self-belief.
Before, Belgium could play say 20 minutes or to some extent the entire half of good football and then fade. But now they are consistent in their good performances. Of course they have great talent and Eden Hazard is top of that list and he has carried the team like a captain should.
Romelo Lukaku’s link up play has been great too. But I’ve been particularly impressed by (Marouane) Fellaini. He is known for being a pinch-hitter but this time he has really done well, especially against Japan and Brazil. He stopped Brazil from playing and then he could also get to the end of crosses in the opposition box.”
He admits France will be a different proposition but is confident the Belgians can overcome Didier Deschamps’ men.
“The way this World Cup has gone, I expect a few more surprises. Yes France are very strong in midfield with (Kylian) Mbappe and (Olivier) Giroud but Belgium can upset them.
“They have shown us already just how good a team they can be no matter the opposition.”
Spring that upset and the Belgian will be in their first ever World Cup final, a magnificent achievement befitting of a team described as “the golden generation”.