At the start of the 2017/18 season, Christian Benteke would have been confident of his chances of securing a place in Belgium’s 2018 World Cup squad.
The striker scored fifteen goals in the Premier League for Palace following his move from Liverpool in the 2016/17 campaign, returning to his peak form displayed during three terms with Aston Villa.
However, he has taken a major step back, scoring just three goals in twenty-nine appearances this season. Benteke has not appeared for Belgium since 2017 and was left out of Roberto Martinez’s squad for their friendly against Saudi Arabia. Due to intense competition for places in the firing line, the 27-year-old’s hopes of travelling to Russia in the summer appear to be all but over.
Benteke still has quality and could be a useful asset, especially should injuries occur between now and the start of the competition. Other than his form, perhaps the biggest issue for his selection chances are his similarity to the style of Romelu Lukaku. Martinez will be looking to the Manchester United man to lead his side’s charge towards the crown, surrounded by a plethora of talent in the final third. Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Dries Mertens and Radja Nainggolan make De Rode Duivels extremely strong contenders for the World Cup, highlighted by their average odds with leading bookmakers at 11/1 to win the tournament.
Belgium have flattered to deceive at major tournaments, notably in Euro 2016 when they were dispatched in the quarter-finals by Wales with relative ease. However, their talent alone should see them reach at least the same stage of the World Cup this time around. England could knock them off course in the group stage, which could provide a harder road to the latter phases. Martinez could be a weakness given his struggles in his final season at Everton, although he has proved to have prowess in cup competitions, guiding Wigan Athletic to their shock FA Cup triumph over Manchester City in 2013. As a result, Belgium are certainly worth a punt in the World Cup odds with Bet365, with £100 available in free bet credits for signing up.
De Rode Duivels will be a fascinating team to watch in the summer, which is something spectators will have in common with Benteke unless something miraculous occurs. He has been off colour from the off this term, failing to build on his strong end to the last campaign when he scored a brace to deliver a victory over his old club Liverpool.
The 27-year-old went goalless in his opening twelve matches of the season. This run included a costly penalty miss late in his side’s 2-2 draw against Bournemouth, which denied Palace a vital victory at Selhurst Park. His decision to take the ball from regular penalty taker Luka Milivojevic highlighted his desperation and the forward’s confidence has not been the same since.
Benteke has found the net in two wins over Leicester and a draw against West Ham United, ending a nine-game drought in Palace’s thumping 5-0 triumph against Foxes. The forward is the perfect example of a confidence player. When he’s at the peak of his powers, Benteke is almost unplayable with clinical finishing and prowess in the air roughing up opposing defenders. However, when’s off form all those attributes evaporate, which at the moment makes it an easy decision for Martinez to leave the forward out of his 23-man squad.