As the World Cup draws to a close and teams, players, coaches, pundits & fans alike reflect on what was and what could have been, we at Outside of the Boot under our Talent Radar feature recognise the best young players at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
The eligibility criteria for this list are all those players who were 21 and below at the start of the 2013/14 season (taken as June 1st 2013).
What was expected of him? One of the oldest players eligible for out Talent Radar feature, De Bruyne was an important component of the Belgian midfield. Everybody’s dark-horses of the tournament, Belgium perhaps failed to live up to that billing as they flattered to deceive throughout. Having said that, a quarter-final appearance is no mean feat, something De Bruyne made a definite contribution to.
How did he perform? Belgium’s first game of the tournament saw them take on eventual runners-up of the group Algeria. The Wolfsburg midfielder played in his preferred role of attacking midfielder. Algeria took a shock lead through a Feghouli penalty as the Red Devils were limited to mainly shots from range. Algeria stuck to their task of defending their lead but late substitutions worked in Belgium’s favour. De Bruyne played an integral part in the come-back as it was his cross which set-up substitute Fellaini’s equalizing header. The eventual winner came from another substitute Mertens by the virtue of a swift counter which all started with De Bruyne robbing Feghouli of the ball.
Next up was Fabio Capello’s Russia. Following Fellaini’s impact off the bench against Algeria, he got the nod to start behind the striker which meant a deeper role for De Bruyne at the expense of Dembele. In fact, De Bruyne and Fellaini’s roles were interchangeable as there were various occasions when the former surged forward and the Manchester United man dropped into deeper positions. De Bruyne was certainly tidy if not spectacular as Belgium secured the win late on courtesy a late Origi goal.
Having secured qualification in the first two games, Wilmots took the opportunity to give his fringe players a go against South Korea and De Bruyne was an unused substitute as Vertonghen’s goal ensured that Belgium topped the group with 3 wins out of 3 games.
The Round of 16 clash against USA was unarguably one of the games of the tournament. The two sides served up a thoroughly entertaining affair with Tim Howard providing us with one of the best goalkeeping displays one is ever likely to see. De Bruyne had his chances in regulation time but found himself thwarted by Howard on multiple occasions. The Belgian had the last laugh though as he broke the deadlock early in extra time. It was a quality strike as De Bruyne showed excellent composure to make space for the shot and slot home across Howard. In fact De Bruyne also chalked up an assist later in extra time as he played in Lukaku to double their lead. The USA pulled a goal back but the Red Devils sealed their progress to the quarter-finals.
In what turned out to be the last game for the Belgian contingent, De Bruyne and his teammates went up against eventual runners-up Argentina. De Bruyne slotted in behind Origi at the start of the game but drifted out to the right flank as the game progressed. De Bruyne attempted numerous crosses but failed to find his mark on multiple occasions.
De Bruyne underlined why he was one of the key members of Wilmots’ squad. He did his reputation no harm as he was of Belgium’s better players. De Bruyne is technically gifted and a pleasure to watch on the ball. The young midfielder can control the tempo of the game and a sizable number of Belgian attacks can be traced back to find its origin in De Bruyne.
More from Talent Radar: De Bruyne featured in our list of 25 Young Players to watch at the World Cup coming in at number 14. His memorable goal against the USA in the Round of 16 was deemed worthy of a spot in our Top 10 goals at the World Cup by young players. We also have a detailed scout report on the ex-Chelsea player.
What does the future hold for him in the national team? De Bruyne has already established himself in the national set-up. Given his talent and age, it will be no surprise if De Bruyne goes on to become a corner stone of the Belgian side in years to come. Along with the likes of Lukaku and Origi, Belgium have showed us a glimpse of their future. Keeping in mind that Hazard is still quite young, we could well have just seen the foundations of Belgium’s exciting next generation.