On Friday, a highly-talented Belgium team qualified for the 2014 World Cup with victory in Croatia. They have been tipped for big things, but do they have what it takes to actually lift the trophy in Brazil?
For a nation that has not qualified for a major tournament since 2002, when they reached the second round in South Korea and Japan, Belgium have had a stunning re-emergence. Head Coach Marc Wilmots, who was part of that side 11 years ago, has a wonderful array of options available to him, including several of Europe’s top players.
A look at Belgium’s qualifying campaign gives an indication of their potential. Eight wins and a draw from nine games in a group containing fairly strong sides such as Croatia and Serbia represents a statement of intent, and surely they must fancy their chances of taking the top prize next July.
Their ability to produce such a high number of quality players is something that other nations, in particular England, should be looking to emulate. Belgium’s model of player development at the same time offers hope to others that things can be achieved in such a short period.
Much of the team is made up of stars of the Premier League, with the strength in depth available to Wilmots typified by the two goalkeepers vying for the No.1 jersey, Thibaut Courtois, hotly tipped to take over from Petr Cech at Chelsea in future, and Simon Mignolet of Liverpool.
Two more Tottenham players, Nacer Chadli and Mousa Dembele, are among the midfield options, and the list of star names continues with Marouane Fellaini, Eden Hazard, Axel Witsel, Christian Benteke, Kevin Mirallas and Romelu Lukaku, the man who ensured qualification with both goals in Friday’s 2-1 win.
So, while the hosts Brazil, current world champions Spain, Argentina and Germany will be rightly among the favourites, Belgium have the right to be considered as very realistic contenders to triumph at the Maracana. They undoubtedly have the players with the potential to go all the way.
See what the expert tipsters are tipping on OLBG