- Following a season to forget, Nacer Chadli is flying high again
- He won his starting place following a decisive cameo against Japan
- Chadli wants to see Belgium stretch their winning run against France
By Simon Massart, with Belgium
Just thinking about last season gives Nacer Chadli a knot in his stomach. Six months ago, the Belgium midfielder felt cursed. “Every time I came back from injury, I got injured again,” he told FIFA.com. “I couldn’t work out why my body was no longer responding. I told myself that it was fate, and that I had to accept it.”
Little did he know, happier times lay just around the corner. The football gods would soon smile again on Chadli, and never more so than on 2 July.
The date will be remembered for one of Belgium’s best ever comebacks at a FIFA World Cup™, seeing the team recover from two goals down to defeat Japan in the Round of 16. And the turnaround was due in no small part to the impact made by Chadli, who capped off a stellar performance off the bench by scoring the winning goal.
His prize was a starting role in the innovative formation chosen by Roberto Martinez for the quarter-final meeting with Brazil, four days later. It was his first start since October 2017. The West Bromwich Albion man repaid his manager’s faith almost immediately, delivering the corner that led to his team’s opening goal.
Last season Chadli played only 215 minutes of Premier League football, in addition to experiencing relegation for the first time in his career. Less than two months later, he has already clocked up over 199 minutes of action in Russia and is getting ready to play a World Cup semi-final against France.
“I’ve had a chaotic year,” admitted Chadli. “It has been really tough, to the extent that I’ve considered calling it a day. What I’m experiencing now is unreal. Quite simply, I’m over the moon.”
Eyebrows were raised in certain quarters back when Martinez named Chadli in his squad for Russia. Even the player himself admits to having been caught off guard. “It was a long struggle. I didn’t think that I was going to get called up. I wouldn’t have believed it if you’d told me that I was about to experience everything I’m going through now,” added the versatile midfielder. Having been deployed on the left against Brazil, he is now expected to replace the suspended Thomas Meunier on the right flank against France.
The Belgians played the match of their lives against Brazil. Now they are gearing themselves up for a repeat performance on Tuesday, in the firm belief that a third titanic showdown awaits them on 15 July. “If we could beat Brazil, we shouldn’t fear anyone, even though the French have such a complete team,” added Chadli. “We can’t settle for just containing one of their threats because they’ve got a whole range of them, much like us.”
Chadli may be on to something. With their mental strength, pace on the break, tactical discipline and outstanding individual talent, in many ways Belgium and France have come to resemble one another. Nonetheless, he is confident that the Belgians will have the last word against their bitter rivals.
“The crowd deserves a great spectacle,” he concluded. “All the players think that our manager is a step ahead tactically, and I think that our hunger for victory will be greater than theirs too.”