Predicting the XI: Premier League rules Belgium’s World Cup opener

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A day before the 2010 World Cup kicked off, Belgium sat at number 48 in the FIFA world rankings. When they were drawn in Group H to take part in the 2014 tournament, they were fifth.

Their climb to the top of the football-hipster pyramid is largely thanks to a core of Premier League-based stars, with 12 of their 23-man squad plying their trade in the English top-flight.

In our attempts to predict their starting XI for the clash with Algeria, where they’re 1/3 to win, eight of them make the grade:

Belgium-XI-17-6-14

Jose Mourinho confirmed that Thibaut Courtois will finally be used as a Chelsea player next season, and he’s guaranteed to start ahead of Liverpool’s Simon Mignolet for Marc Wilmots between the sticks.

At the back, Vincent Kompany is the side’s captain and will be partnered by Arsenal exile Thomas Vermaelen, despite the 28-year-old’s fixture to the bench in north London this season.

Two more centre-backs, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, will fill the right and left-back roles in an area of the pitch the Red Devils are weakest.

Axel Witsel is the man Wilmots trusts to screen those four defenders but there’s little to pick between Manchester United’s Marouane Fellaini and Tottenham’s Mousa Dembele as the box-to-box option. The Spurs man gets our approval given his superior club form.

Eden Hazard is the undoubted poster boy of the side and will operate from the left wing, but Kevin de Bruyne outperformed him from the right during qualification.

Everton’s Kevin Mirallas and another Spur, Nacer Chadli, battle it out for the final spot in what is expected to be a fluid trio, with Wilmots’ fondness of Chadli’s tactical nous likely to see him win the battle.

Mirallas’ temporary Toffees teammate, Romelu Lukaku, will lead the line in Christian Benteke’s absence.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Matt Wiggins

No idyllic sound comes close to leather on willow for Matt, whose previous experience includes stints with Spin Magazine and Surrey County Cricket Club. It's not just cricket that interests him though, with football, golf, tennis and any American sport not played on ice all high on his list of favourites.