Rewind ten years and anyone claiming Belgium could be serious contenders in a World Cup would have been ridiculed. However, such suggestions today are commonplace amongst football fans worldwide. What exactly has happened to cause such a drastic change in the Red Devils' fortunes?
The last major tournament featuring a Belgian side was back in 2002 at the World Cup in South Korea and Japan. On that occasion they were knocked out in the round of 16, losing 2-0 to the Brazil side which went on to lift the trophy.
Of the players lining up for Belgium that day, only defender Daniel Van Buyten remains in the current team and captain Marc Wilmots’ is now the Belgian head coach.
In their place, Belgium now boast a side packed with top quality Premier League talent. The strength of the Belgian first XI that lined up against Croatia on Friday night was phenomenal.
Despite missing the injured Vincent Kompany, the back four including the likes of Tottenham centre back Jan Vertonghen and Atletico Madrid summer signing Toby Alderweireld was backed up by a midfield featuring Eden Hazard, Alex Witsel, Mousa Dembele and Marouane Fellaini.
To top this off, up front Belgium are able to call upon the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Nacer Chadli and Christian Benteke, all of which are under the age of 25.
Given the form of on-loan Chelsea striker Lukaku, it was no surprise to see him net both goals as Belgium ran out 2-1 winners to secure their place on the plane to Brazil. If Lukaku is able to carry this kind of goalscoring form into Rio next summer, he will surely be one of the favourites to secure the Golden Boot at the tournament.
Belgium ended their qualifying campaign on Tuesday night with a 1-1 draw at home to Wales, with Kevin de Bruyne’s second half strike being cancelled out late on by an Aaron Ramsey goal. Despite this draw, Belgium finished the campaign top of their group with 26 points - nine points ahead of second placed Croatia.
While this result will have been a disappointing note on which to end a highly impressive qualifying campaign, it does in no way undermine Belgium’s credentials as real contenders to lift the World Cup next July.
Wilmots made numerous changes to his side, handing starts to the likes of Chadli and Kevin Mirallas, whilst resting Hazard. Nonetheless, the team still dominated and were unlucky not to secure all three points in Brussels.
Belgium may not be favourites to win in Brazil 2014, but they will be sure to ruffle a few feathers in next summer’s tournament.
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