Belgium may go on to win the World Cup, but the biggest winner of the 2018 World Cup is England — more accurately, the Premier League.
Nine of the 11 starters Belgium picked out to beat Brazil in the quarterfinals ply their trade in the Premier League, and Belgium’s squad is, in many ways, a Premier League All-Star team. The front line picked to face Brazil by Belgium boss Roberto Martinez, who made his bones as an England top-flight manager, was stacked with Premier League stars: Manchester United’s $100 million striker Romelu Lukaku, Chelsea’s three-time Player of the Year Eden Hazard and the Premier League’s 2018 Playmaker of the Year Kevin De Bruyne.
In addition, Belgium’s back line was stacked with the Tottenham defensive duo of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, along with arguably the best Premier League central defender of the past decade in Vincent Kompany. Kompany arrived in England in 2008, and the Anderlecht product helped the Citizens to three Premier League titles — eclipsing the club’s previous two First Division titles claimed in 1937 and 1968.
To say that the Red Devils have been an advertisement for the Premier League is an understatement.
One should also take a moment to mention Belgium’s Man of the Match against Brazil, Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois. Without Courtois, Belgium likely doesn’t hold on to beat Brazil in 90 minutes, as the 26-year-old shot-stopper stood figuratively and literally head and shoulders above the competition. Regularly included in the list of top-three goal keepers on the planet, Courtois is the only member of that slightly amorphous list still standing at the semifinal stage of the World Cup.
Add in the catalysts for the comeback against Japan in the Round of 16, Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli. Fellaini has been an important player at Manchester United under multiple mangers, who have looked to the loud-haired former Everton midfielder to get in the box and grab a necessary goal. Chadli, who scored the winner against Japan, broke West Bromwich Albion’s club record upon joining from Tottenham Hotspur.
When the quarterfinal against Brazil arrived, both Fellaini and Chadli started for Belgium.
From the top of the line to the back line to the manager on the sideline, Belgium is flying the Premier League flag high and proud. A Belgian victory in the World Cup final at the Luzhniki Stadium would serve as a particularly persuasive infomercial, especially if that victory came against England.
After all, England sent 23 Premier League players to Russia, so it stands to reason that the Three Lions would start 11 players from the most famous domestic league for the final in Moscow. Add in Paul Pogba, Olivier Giroud, N’Golo Kante and Hugo Lloris from France’s starting 11 against Uruguay and the Premier League semifinal thread is impossible to ignore.
In fact, if all four of the semifinalists trot out the same starting lineups that graced Russia’s lush green grass in the quarterfinals, Tuesday and Wednesday’s matches would feature 25 Premier League talents out of 44 possible starters — including three of the four goalkeepers.
The next best-represented league in the World Cup semifinals would be Spain’s La Liga with eight players: four on France, one on Belgium and three on Croatia. The Bundesliga accounts for four starters, two in France’ starting lineup and two on Croatia. Serie A, meanwhile, sent three Croatians to the semifinals. Despite France’s advancement to the semis, Les Bleus only started one Ligue 1 player with Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappe deservedly earning his place, as did AS Monaco’s Croatian keeper Danijel Subasic.
Toss in Alex Witsel playing in China and Domogok Vida playing in Turkey to complete the set of 44, and the Premier League’s presence at the latter stages of the World Cup, particularly in Belgium’s squad, is noticeable.
If Marcelo Brozovic gets a start for Croatia in the semifinal and Dries Mertens returns to the fold for Belgium, the extra Serie A selections still wouldn’t dent the Premier League’s overwhelming display for Russia’s final four.
If the final turns out to be England versus Belgium, the 2018 World Cup final may as well be renamed the Premier League All-Star Game. Regardless of which country wins the tournament, the Premier League has already won the 2018 World Cup.
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