World Cup Player Profile: Dries Mertens

Giuseppe Bellini

Is Dries Mertens one of the most talented players going to the World Cup, only to spend most of his time warming the bench? Napoli fans are likely to think so.

Since joining from PSV last summer, Mertens has scored 11 goals in 33 Serie A appearances, while starting just 21 times. It took some time for the Belgian to adjust to playing in Italy, but by the end of the season, he'd established himself as one of the most exciting players in Serie A. He scored six goals in Napoli's final eight games, and many of them were absolute stunners.

Belgium
Forward/Attacker/Winger/Special
Caps: 25 Goals: 3
Group H

Dries Mertens

Service for Belgium: It took some time for Mertens to find his way into the national team. His first call-ups came back in 2010, when the Red Devils were chasing a place in Euro 2012. Mertens never found his way on to the pitch, however - and Belgium missed out on the tournament. Coincidence?

Mertens won his first cap in a friendly against Finland in 2011, and has since appeared 25 times, which doesn't seem all that much for a 27-year-old. Still, he was part of Belgium's successful qualifying campaign in which the team went undefeated, winning eight and drawing two to finish top of Group A.

No goals for Mertens during qualifying, but he did score the winner in Belgium's last warm-up match, a 1-0 win over Tunisia. Dries came on for the second half and had already put the ball in the back of the net, only to have it ruled out, by the time he scored in the 89th.

What makes him interesting: Do you enjoy long-range stunners, speeding through the air to skillfully evade a leaping goalkeeper's outstretched fingers? Dries can do that. Do you like watching players twist and turn, leaping over legs and evading tackles from players twice their size, only to put the ball in the back of the net? Dries can do that. Or perhaps you're a purist, preferring men who can score directly from free kicks. Guess what? Dries can do that, too.

What to expect in Brazil: Alas, probably not much. Mertens started in the win over Sweden and came on against Tunisia, but it's not likely Marc Wilmots will be selecting him in Belgium's starting XI. In case you hadn't noticed, Belgium is a bit stacked in the midfield/winger/wide attacker/central-attacking-midfield-cum-forward area. The lineup's most likely to be Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Kevin Mirallas sitting behind Romelu Lukaku.

But that's ok. After all, Mertens can certainly change up a game late on. His bursts of pace will allow him to get behind even the stodgiest, most determined defenses. In other words, Mertens could very well make or brake Belgium's World Cup dreams.

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