Belgium Hopes Its Inspirational Leader Can Face Americans ; Injury-Prone Kompany, One of the Best at His Position, Anchors Defense

By Longman, Jere | International New York Times, July 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Belgium Hopes Its Inspirational Leader Can Face Americans ; Injury-Prone Kompany, One of the Best at His Position, Anchors Defense


Longman, Jere, International New York Times


Belgium's captain is Vincent Kompany, a charismatic figure and oa top central defender. But he's hurt a lot and may miss facing the U.S. team.

Vincent Kompany, Belgium's captain, jumped to head a corner kick during a World Cup qualifying match against Serbia last June. He hoped to land with a goal. Instead, he fell to the ground with a bloodied face, a broken nose, a fractured eye socket and a concussion.

Still, Kompany remained in the game for an hour after colliding with Serbia's goalkeeper and played the full 90 minutes, his swollen nose packed with cotton. Belgium won the crucial match, 2-1, making its first World Cup appearance since 2002 all but inevitable.

"What wouldn't you do for your country hey," Kompany wrote on his Twitter account.

The moment crystallized his role as Belgium's leader and illuminated another aspect of his career, this one less sanguine.

Kompany, 28, is a charismatic and ebullient presence, perhaps the top central defender at the World Cup. He speaks five languages and has a keen sense of social responsibility.

But he is also frequently injured. A groin strain has left Kompany uncertain for Tuesday's second-round match against the United States in Salvador, Brazil. He missed Belgium's final group match against South Korea, along with training on Friday and Saturday. A team spokesman said his availability for Tuesday was "50- 50."

"Vincent is my right hand on the field," Coach Marc Wilmots said Friday at Belgium's training camp outside Sao Paulo. "He is very important, a real leader. It is complicated when he is not there. We have others who can replace him, but we will do everything we can to get him ready."

At 6 feet 3 inches, Kompany is a prototypical center back: smart, disciplined, big, strong, explosive with his first step. He reads the game alertly, positions himself adeptly, tackles assuredly and passes confidently and dependably to start Belgium's attack.

With Kompany's assertive captaincy, Manchester City has won two of the last three titles in England's Premier League after a drought of 44 years. For Belgium's national team, Kompany is the most accomplished of an emergent generation of superbly skilled players, responsible for forging individual talent into a cohesive group.

Many consider Belgium a dark horse in the World Cup, even if its attack has been more plodding than alluring so far.

Defensively, the Red Devils conceded a lone goal, on a penalty kick, in the group phase.

"Vincent is a natural-born leader," his fellow defender Jan Vertonghen said. "He's the leader on and off the pitch. That's how everyone sees him. He's not fake. He's like the father of the team, taking care of everything and everyone."

Yet Kompany has also been frequently unavailable because of injury. According to Le Soir, a French-language Belgian newspaper, he has missed 700 days to injury during his 11-year professional career with his club and national teams. …

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