It’s probably fair to say that up until now, the Qatar 2022 World Cup has so far not exactly gone as Kevin De Bruyne and his Belgium colleagues would have hoped.
Semi-finalists four years ago in Russia, the Red Devils were tipped to shine bright once again this time around.
However, in what is proving to be one of the most competitive and unpredictable World Cups in recent memory, Belgium have so far found the going tough.
After surprisingly losing 2-1 to Egypt in their final warm-game, Roberto Martinez’s men then flattered to deceive in overcoming an impressive Canada 1-0 in their opening group encounter.
That was followed by last Sunday’s 2-0 shock reverse to a vibrant and energetic Morocco whose victory in Doha threw a highly competitive Group D wide open.
For a squad blessed with an abundance of genuine world class talent – headed by the genius of the City midfielder - it wasn’t what was expected.
And it has left De Bruyne and Co with the prospect of needing to beat Croatia – finalists at Russia 2018 - in Thursday’s final group game in order to guarantee their place in the last 16.
With so much at stake, it’s a challenging scenario that could intimidate and indeed inhibit the majority of players.
De Bruyne, however, isn’t like most ordinary players.
Over the course of his decorated and stellar career, time and again KDB has perfected the unerring knack of demonstrating that whenever a question is asked of him, he invariably is the man to provide the right answer.
And for all the noise and turbulence which has surrounded Belgium’s World Cup adventure to date, manager Roberto Martinez has remained calm, composed and trusting in in the special quality his playmaker can summon up.
“For me, Kevin De Bruyne is the best playmaker in world football,” was Martinez’s unequivocal verdict ahead of the Qatar showpiece.
They could the words of City manager Pep Guardiola, a man who knows better than most about the brilliance of our midfield marvel.
Instead, though this tribute came from someone else who has worked at close quarters with the 31-year-old for the past six years on the international stage.
Of course, De Bruyne has long been established as the creative heartbeat of Pep Guardiola’s sublime City side.
Voted PFA player of the Year in both 2020 and 2021, and the Premier League Player of the Year in 2020 and 2022, KDB’s impact on the fabulous City sides orchestrated by Guardiola has been nigh on incalculable.
And a third-place finish at this year’s prestigious Ballon d’Or awards only served to further cement Kevin’s status as a blue-chip performer of the very highest calibre.
A City career trophy haul to date of four Premier League titles, five League Cups, an FA Cup and a Community Shield bear shining testament to De Bruyne’s enduring quality.
One of European football’s great assist kings, De Bruyne’s standing as the one of the pre-eminent Premier League midfielders of this or any other generation is non-negotiable.
What’s more, that reputation hasn’t just been harvested on the domestic arena.
De Bruyne has also arguably been the prize nugget adorning Belgium’s very own golden generation.
A conveyor belt of dazzling talent developed in the Low Country has seen the likes of Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois, Jan Vertonghen and Axel Witsel – to name just a few – all bloom on the global stage over the past eight years.
That third-placed finish at the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia represented Belgium’s best-ever finish at a World Cup final, and it was a run which included a mesmeric 2-1 quarter-final win over favourites Brazil featuring a De Bruyne thunderbolt.
And if their quarter-final exit at both the 2016 and 2020 EUROS represented an arguably premature return given the rich talent at the Red Devils’ disposal, Thursday’s make or break assignment with Croatia could serve as the ideal showcase with which to galvanise them.
De Bruyne referenced the advanced age of the squad in a typically honest and forthright interview published in the UK at the weekend.
However, as far as Martinez is concerned, an early departure from the 22nd edition of the world’s ultimate team prize would be a crying shame - not just for Belgium but for everyone who loves the sport.
“We have certain players who are at the peak of their careers, and for me, De Bruyne is the best playmaker in world football,” Martinez asserted ahead of the tournament getting underway.
"The way he affects the game, the way he can become that player who executes the pass that no other can do.
“Playmakers dictate the tempo; give perfect passes and they take responsibility.
“He got the highest position ever of a Belgian player in the Ballon d’Or.
“The role he has at Manchester City and the way he has been developing, it makes him one of the stars of the tournament, not just a star of Belgium.”
Despite his stellar standing within the game and pressures that go with operating at the zenith of high-performance sport, De Bruyne himself has long been renowned as one of the most humble, unassuming players operating in the game.
For him it’s always been about the collective rather than the individual.
However, when asked to look ahead to Qatar earlier this season – and what the prospect of a Belgium triumph would mean, De Bruyne again referenced the collective rather the individual, principles which have been his guiding cornerstones.
“I don’t care about goals or assists. If we would win it with Belgium, it would be unbelievable because we are a very small country in comparison to a lot,” KDB insisted.
"But we’ve done well since 2014, we’ve come back up and obviously it’s going to be hard for us but that’s the only goal.
"It doesn’t mean we’re going to win it… but we are going to try.”
The last word however goes to Martinez.
Belgium and he may be in the eye of the storm ahead of Thursday’s date with destiny – but he is adamant that De Bruyne and the Red Devils have plenty more fight left in them at Qatar 2022.
“We haven’t seen the best of Belgium yet,” Martinez declared as he looked ahead to Thursday’s mouth-watering clash with Croatia.
“We are not at our best. It’s not just Kevin, it’s the whole team. We didn’t play with freedom (against Morocco).
“We’ve played the last two games like we have something to lose.
“It’s not a lack of quality or the technical aspect. We were better on the ball than against Canada but the link-up and the last pass was missing. We played with a fear of losing. I don’t see the enjoyment we usually play with and that’s something we need to work on.
“We haven’t anything to lose any more. We will play to win against Croatia and that will be the start of us at this World Cup.
“Football is a team sport and when it works together the individual can reach a higher level.”