Football

Destiny awaits Belgium's Golden Generation

Hazard & Fellaini are leading the way. (©GettyImages)
Hazard & Fellaini are leading the way. (©GettyImages).

Belgium may not have qualified for an international tournament since the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, but the Red Devils are now perhaps the most talked about nation on the European scene.

Few teams in international football currently offer more promise than Belgium as their so called Golden Generation increase their stronghold among some of the most prominent clubs on the continent.

With 16 players from the Premier League among his number, Belgium manager Mark Wilmots has guided them to top of Group A in the quest to reach the 2014 World Cup.

And as the months tick down on the path to Brazil, the tag of 'dark horses' will be one Belgium no longer warrant as they continue their upward trajectory very much in the crosshairs of football's elite.

They may have only just squeezed into the top 20 of the FIFA World Rankings - still four places below their highest ever ranking - but Belgium have the potential to explode on the international stage.

Chelsea's Eden Hazard is the poster boy for Wilmots' while, on paper, Belgium have one of the finest young squads under the UEFA umbrella, with a side including the captains of both Manchester City and Arsenal in Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen.

Jan Vertonghen's summer move from Ajax to Tottenham will allow the defender to further enhance his skills, while the talents of teammate Mousa Dembele were reinforced when it took £15 million to sign him from Fulham.

Double that transfer fee for the amount exchanged when Axel Witsel left Benfica for Zenit St Petersburg in the summer, and the speed of Belgium's growth is highlighted further.

Witsel, a versatile midfielder, is usually found partnered by Everton's Marouane Fellaini in the Belgium midfield, although the latter has shown for his club that contribute even further in a more advanced position.

Fellaini has thrived since being moved up the pitch by Everton boss David Moyes, and his presence and goals have played a significant role in taking the Toffees into the top four this term.

The 24-year-old was joined at Goodison Park by compatriot Kevin Mirallas during the summer, and their blossoming understanding will benefit greatly both club and country.

Fellaini's rise to greater prominence this term further draws attention to the depth of talent among the Belgium squad, and a failure to qualify for the World Cup once again would be deemed a supreme disappointment for this talented crop of players.

Belgium are, however, in a favourable position in their bid to make it to Brazil in two years, with a place at the top of Group A by virtue of goal difference, and home encounters with Wales and Macedonia still to come.

Qualification for 2014 would be the first obstacle overcome on Belgium's journey to become a side of some repute, and this group of professionals have the ability to ensure merely 'being there' is not the pinnacle of their international careers.

Euro 2016 represents a longer term goal for Belgium, and a more realistic prospect of glory, given that the likes of Hazard and Fellaini should be somewhere near their respective peaks, and youngsters like Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku will be significantly more experienced.

Belgium are already as short as 16/1 with bookmakers to triumph in France in little under four years, and they have the capacity to make the short over the border as favourites to win their first major tournament.

As is the case with England, Golden Generations sometimes fail to reach anything like their potential, and Wilmots will be careful to ensure his Belgium players do no believe their own hype.

But the burden of expectation will only increase as the months and years progress, as the international stage waits for Belgium to take its place in the spotlight.

Topics:
Internationals
Football
Marouane Fellaini

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