Is FIFA's recent promotion of Belgium to number ten in the world rankings truly deserved?

At the birth of the Premier League, just 11 first team players hailed from outside the UK and none of them came from the tiny, low-lying state of Belgium. In fact, the first native of the land of Tintin and waffles to grace post-1992 English football made his début two years later in 1994. 

Philippe Albert, the 6 foot 3, moustachioed Newcastle United centre-back was flattered with links to Manchester United, Fiorentina and Juventus, but was, by no means, the beginning of a Belgian revolution in world football.

The scores of Flemish stars now invading the top flight have arrived as part of a much more recent resurgence in the country. The question is, despite the surprising wealth of talent the country can lay claim to, is Belgium really a rising power in world football?

World Cup semi-finalists in Mexico 86 and finalists in the 1980 European Championships, Belgium has enjoyed its fair share of footballing glory. The golden 80s and 90s under Guy Thys, saw the likelihood of World Cup qualification become a certainty: Michel Preud'homme, Enzo Scifo and Luc Nilis epitomising the flair and physicality that developed as traits of the side in this period. 

But then, in the late 90s, the country's footballing success began to dwindle and since 2002, Belgium has failed to qualify for any World Cups or UEFA European Championships and in 2007 their FIFA World Ranking slipping to an embarrassing 71.

Now however, the side sits at 10, climbing 61 places in six years. The reason for this exponential rise seems clear; the team is simply overflowing with talent. Nigh on fifty percent of the squad named for the last international play for major, Premier League outfits and the remainder represent the likes of Atletico Madrid, Napoli, Ajax, Zenit Saint Petersburg and Porto. 

With the end of the Confederations Cup, Brazil 2014 is on the minds of footballers and fans; and the country tipped by the bookies to upset the tables? That northern European, postage stamp state with the big ambitions. 

Many would agree that a side that can field the Arsenal and Manchester City captains, an Everton playmaker with links to Manchester United and a £24 million Chelsea winger is, if nothing else, a force to be reckoned with. However, it has yet to be seen whether this squad of stars can consistently play as a unit because individualistic, showy football could destroy the growing hopes that Belgium have for 2014. 

Eden Hazard, Chelsea's big name signing this time last year, is a somewhat divisive figure. Arriving at the club for a rumoured £24 million, he undoubtedly has talent, but hasn't quite made the impact that was quite expected of him. 

He is also accused of 'mercenary' attitude, greed and arrogance, especially after his public spat with a Swansea ball boy led to an embarrassing media situation for both club and player.

His equally famous Belgium teammate, Marouane Fellaini, attracted ten bookings in the first 17 games of his début season for Everton. The situation led to the towering midfielder being summoned to speak with England's chief referee and his subsequent promise to improve his behaviour. 

However, in December 2012, Fellaini received a three match ban for head-butting Stoke's Ryan Shawcross, the red mist once again descending. 

Another problem that could face the Belgians is their lack of strength in depth. Although they have a star-studded first team, the bench and wider squad quickly pale into relative obscurity. A handful of injuries could spell disaster for the team, forcing Marc Wilmots to call on uncapped, inexperienced reserves.

The bookies are yet to convince me that Belgium is truly a rising superpower. Discipline, team mentality and a lack of international experience all point towards a push for the semis rather than an easy cruise for Vincent and Kompany.

 

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Topics:
#Moussa Dembele
#Vincent Kompany
#Romelu Lukaku
#Simon Mignolet
#Marouane Fellaini
#Belgium Football
#Eden Hazard
#Thomas Vermaelen
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