The Napoli winger was Belgium’s brightest spark as he twisted and turned through the Russia defence at will, jinking and jiving as he tore past Dmitriy Kombarov and forced smart stops from Igor Akinfeev.
Perhaps the end product could have been better, and he was substituted after tiring later on, but his antics on the biggest stage in football drew wide praise from across the globe.
I was wondering if Mertens will start today. Like him skillful player, quick and clever. Belgium coach have a wonder team.
I can't imagine anybody is enjoying this game more than Dries Mertens' agent is — Tony Karon (@TonyKaron) June 22, 2014
Mertens is hardly an unknown quantity. He is 27 and his progress as a player has been steady and gradual rather than meteoric, playing for smaller clubs in Belgium and Holland before joining PSV three years ago.
A fantastic ratio of 37 goals in 62 Eredivisie matches led to his move to Napoli last season, where he has risen to the challenge of playing in a tougher league.
As a competition, Serie A is not the force it once was. Juventus have a new challenger in Roma, but Napoli will likely be consigned to a future of 2nd-4th placed finishes. Mertens’ reasons for wanting a sterner challenge are twofold.
Real Madrid and Barcelona are well stocked in wide positions, but Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United could do with a winger Mertens’ quality; Liverpool have made it known that they are keen for somebody on the flanks, City always like a vogue signing, and Paris Saint-Germain are likely to change things around as they chase European glory.
Atletico Madrid, the newly crowned Spanish champions, would be the perfect destination, but their budgetary constraints would probably discount them from the bidding.
Whatever happens to the highly-fancied Belgium at this World Cup, Mertens’ stock has risen greatly.[READ ALL OF REDA'S BLOGS]
He cost Napoli around £6.5m, but is probably worth four times that now.
He may stay in Naples, with the Rafael Benitez project a long-term one, and the club continuing to spend big. You never know, they may well break that Bianconeri dominance.
Certainly we all want him – and Belgium – to stick around at this World Cup. As a team they will have to improve: Russia were the better overall side for large chunks of the match, although Belgium improved in the latter stages and snatched a winner through Divock Origi. Marc Wilmots’ side have plenty to do if they are to justify their tag as tournament dark horses.
— Eurosport.com EN (@EurosportCom_EN) June 22, 2014
Mertens, however, is the real deal, yet another star in red. But for how long he shines in Brazil is not entirely up to him.
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