Every tournament has a dark horse vying for the title; this would be no different for the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Brazil. We look at one of the most exciting teams, at least in terms of talent, Belgium and what the 12th ranked team in the world could achieve at the 2014 World Cup.
This would be their 12th World Cup appearance, their first since 2002. The Belgians have a best result of coming 4th in the World cup in the 1986 edition which was hosted by Italy, widely regarded as the “Golden Generation” of Belgian football. During that period they qualified for all the World Cups between 1982-2002 and were blessed with players like Marc Wilmots(now the manager), Jean-Marie Pfaff, Luc Nilis and Eric Gerets, just to name a few. Now it is the coming of the second golden generation which is being led by Marc Wilmots.
The World Cup is a few weeks away and we cannot really be certain that the following players will make it to the final tournament with injuries that can scupper any player’s chances of representing the country, hopefully everyone will stay fit and this could be the squad heading to the World Cup.
Goalkeepers: Simon Mignolet, Thibaut Courtois, Koen Casteels
Defenders: Daniel Van Buyten, Toby Alderweireld, Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen, Sebastian Pocognoli, Thomasn Vermaelen, Anthony Vanden Borre, Nicolas Lombaerts, Laurent Ciman
Midfielders: Axel Witsel, Kevin De Bruyne, Marouane Fellaini, Thorgan Hazard, Radja Nainggolan, Dries Mertens, Timmy Simons, Mousa Dembele, Nacer Chadli
Forwards: Romelu Lukaku, Kevin Mirallas, Eden Hazard
This is a team filled with young talent, it is really hard to start from somewhere. Courtois would be the no 1 keeper for the team, Van Buyten and Kompany would be the first choice center backs, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku would get to start as well since Christian Benteke has sadly been ruled out of the World Cup due to an injury but barring the said players, no other players’ position is a surety in the starting 11, that is a sign of the talent they have at their disposal.
The second golden generation of Belgian football is being led by one of the stalwarts of the first generation. Marc Wilmots, will be leading his team of young guns to their first world cup since 2002 and he has done a magnificent job at the helm, true he does have a lot of talent to dispose off but credit must be given where it is due. Wilmots was best known for his time at Standard Liege, Schalke and Bordeaux, he even reached the UEFA cup final in 1997 with Schalke. He is the highest goal scorer for Belgium at the World Cup tournament with 5 goals and he took over the national team job after being the assistant to Dick Advocaat between 2009 to 2012. His team topped their world cup qualifying group beating the Croatians and Serbians. They went through the qualifying round unbeaten and will be looking to carry that momentum forward into the World Cup.
- Eden Hazard: There are so many great players in this team but if there is one man you need to keep an eye out for is the Chelsea forward, Eden Hazard. He has great pace and technical ability and has been in a good scoring form for his club as well. Just to back my previous statement, he has scored 30 goals for Chelsea in his two years at the club. He will be looking to sparkle at the World Cup and there would very few who would doubt that.
- Vincent Kompany: The captain of the squad, Kompany has been in excellent form for both club and country. He led Manchester City to the Premier League back in 2011-12 and has also won the FA Cup with the English club. He was voted as the PFA Premier League player of the season in 2011-2012 for his standout performances in the heart of City defense, leading them to their first league title in over four decades.
- Thibaut Courtois: Probably the best goalkeeper in the world currently, on loan at Atletico Madrid from Chelsea. Only 21 years old but massively talented, he is one of the reasons for Atletico’s resurgence in the La Liga and Champions League this season and certainly would be one of the reasons as to why Belgium could do well in this tournament.
Wilmots likes to have a lot of attacking players, he plays with a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 depending on the team he faces. Courtois, Kompany, Van Buyten, Alderweireld and Vertonghen make up the back 5. Eden Hazard, Lukaku, Mertens or De Bruyne are the front three. The midfield would consist of the strength of Fellaini with Witsel and Nainggolan completing the team. Everywhere you look there is talent oozing from this Belgian team and some really good players can’t get a look into the starting 11 like Dembele, Mirallas and Mignolet to name a few.
Strengths and Weaknesses
The team is filled with so much talent; they could have a second team in the World Cup and still be better than most teams in the tournament. Every position has at least 2 world class players vying for the starting berth, so there really is no doubt about the quality of the team. Where the team may lack is playing in the big stage, this is their first world cup as a group and they have no experience of playing at the big stage, nerves could get the better of them, that would be the biggest fear any Belgian fan would have.
Belgium have been placed in group H with the likes of South Korea, Algeria and Russia. The Russians and South Koreans would serve as a good test for the Belgian team. The Belgians should make it out easily from the group and should top it if we go by their rankings and form. In the next round they could face either Germany or Portugal and that could be where the Belgians come unstuck, a place in the last 16 is what should be expected at least from the Belgians, it may not be their tournament but with this young group of players, most of them would be back in 4 years time.