World Cup 2014: Fearless Belgians ready to realise potential in Brazil
Following an impressive 2-1 home victory over Croatia, with two goals from red-hot striker Romelu Lukaku, Belgium are celebrating qualification to their first World Cup since 2002.
Having failed to get to either of the three European Championships or two World Cups since making it to Japan and Korea 12 years ago, qualifying alone might normally have represented a significant achievement for a country whose best performance at a Finals remains their run to the semi-finals in Mexico in 1986.
But such is the high-regard this current Belgium side is held in, now ranked the sixth best team in the world according to FIFA, that many are tipping Marc Wilmots’ team as a solid outside bet to go all the way in Brazil, at 14/1 fifth favourites.
And while the modern-day penchant for labelling a country’s talent-pool as a “Golden generation” before they’ve backed it up with success rarely does anyone any favours – just ask the fans of Portugal, Ivory Coast and of course, England – there’s little doubting that this Belgian squad can rightly claim to be the most exciting they’ve ever assembled.
In every position they appear to boast top class players performing at the top of the European game. In goal, Simon Mignolet and Thibaut Courtois – now on his third successive season at Atletico Madrid on loan from Chelsea – continue their titanic duel for the number one spot, both desperate to be guarding a goal behind a formidable back-line including Bayern Munich’s Daniel Van Buyten, Spurs’ Jan Vertonghen and captain Vincent Kompany.
The midfield is buzzing with a healthy mix of creative flair, with the likes of Mirallas, Hazard and Witsel, and defensive steel, with Fellaini and Defour allowing those in front of them to go forward with pace and in numbers.
Then in attack, few defences would look forward to 90 minutes facing up to Premier League powerhouses Lukaku and Christian Benteke.
And with the exception of the veteran 35-year-old Van Buyten, most of their starting XI are under the age of 26, adding to the sense of a fearless and confident buzz around Belgian international football at the minute. Not to mention the theory that should Brazil 2014 be one step too soon for many of these players, winning Euro 2016 two years later could be a very real possibility – and in the back yard of neighbours France to boot.
The Belgians have gone eight games unbeaten, winning seven, scoring fifteen goals, conceding only five, and dispatching of the likes of the USA, Serbia and 2010 finalists Holland in the last year alone. The Red Devils are 14/1 to fulfil their undoubted potential and become the first European team to win a World Cup in South America.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.