Intoxication and Expectation: Belgium at the World Cup
Anyone who's someone in the beer world views Belgium as the centre of the universe. Even the national flag looks like a taster set, porter on the left, an amber in the middle and ruby red on the right. In footballing terms, the country has all the right ingredients, too. Somehow, the end product never seems to go down smoothly. Yet, the end product never tastes quite as the nation expects.
The new brewmaster isn't Belgian but Roberto Martinez is well-versed in what the country expects from its team. Soon enough, we'll know whether some Spanish hops will produce a championship flavour.
A Dark Defence
Stout. The word dates to the 1500s and has always meant “strong in body, powerful built”. An accurate description for any back line.
A proper stout should be served in a tall glass, whereas Belgium's stout defence is meant to serve a tall goalkeeper. Thibaut Courtois has established himself in his national colours as well as Chelsea Blue. In the World Cup qualification campaign, he allowed just six goals in 900 minutes. Stern and commanding, the 6' 6" shot-stopper is certainly a dark Trappist in net.
To make sure he keeps his head, Martinez has included no fewer than nine recognized defenders in his squad. His team can line up in any formation in front of Courtois. In the last two competitive games, the Spaniard employed a three-man rearguard.
Two churches in defence, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen bring to mind the other type of porter. The one at the hotel who takes your luggage upstairs after pointing you to the bar. There are no suitcases on the pitch but defenders must bear heavy weight at a World Cup. One error can end the tournament when the best attackers in the world are trying to penetrate the eighteen without a reservation.
Potent malts like Laurent Ciman, Thomas Vermaelen, and Vincent Kompany aren't as consistently satisfying as Alderweireld and Vertonghen, but have something to offer.
Ciman's game hasn't watered down despite taking his act to America, worse, Los Angeles. His set-pieces are craftily flavoured, like the many microbreweries popping up everywhere stateside. At 32, he’s arguably playing the best football of his life. Ever present for the first 11 games of the season for LAFC, who are second in the league, he's even scored two goals. One in Russia, then, would make for an exciting Tripel.
A Creative Quadrupel
They take things a step further in the centre of the universe. If you've never had the pleasure, a quadrupel is not unlike a contemporary midfield football. There are innumerable methods to brew one just like you can field a diamond, wingers, two holding players, a box-to-box buccaneer, whatever tickles your taste buds.
Martinez prefers four outright midfielders in his lineup, allowing for a heady brew of attacking formations. Roberto isn’t afraid to rotate the bottles, either, when setting up his middle of the park.
Mousa Dembele, Kevin de Bruyne, Youri Tielemans and even Yannick Carrasco dip in their ladles. As do Adnan Januzaj, Axel Witsel, Marouane Fellaini and another who rolls pleasantly off the tongue, Leander Dendoncker. Talk about your craft beers. Martinez will not be spoiling for variety.
Rich Top End
Red beers are becoming more and more popular; with their sharp, sweet and bitter taste. The life of a forward is often the same. When it’s good it’s glutenous. When the goals dry up, it’s difficult to stagger back into form.
The monasteries of Romelu Lukaku, Dries Mertens, and Michy Batshuayi will most certainly be called on to provide attacking options and fire the team ahead. Combined, they poured out 70 goals in all competitions, despite Antonio Conte acting like a teetotaler when it came to playing Batshuayi. For all that effort, however, no trophies were forthcoming. Michy officially won the FA Cup as a Chelsea player, although it's doubtful he cared to watch the match from his flat in Dortmund.
Then, how can we forget the Hazard brothers, whose potency in the centre of the attack is legendary? Eden is a lock for the final squad even if he doesn't understand there is no offside in basketball. Thorgen, though, will have to sweat the final cut.
Bottom of the barrel
When brewing beer with such strong flavours as these Belgian elixirs; there can't help but be waste product. Sometimes breweries like to release a heavy Bock brewed from the thick syrup at year's end. Many brewmasters frown on the concept, refusing to recommend the concoction.
For Roberto Martinez, Radja Naiggolan is the heavy sediment left behind. His choice left a bad taste in the mouths of many Belgium supporters. The official board has left him out and Martinez has said several times now, he doesn’t suit the Belgian side's style of play. Others disagree heartily. In the end, the Spaniard's brew will be judged on the consequences of that decision.
All the rest of us can do is raise a glass of our best to toast their success or down it in sorrow at their failure.