For a while now, it’s been no small secret that there is a new footballing force emerging across the channel.
Belgium were ranked 40th in the world at the start of World Cup qualifying for Brazil 2014. After breezing through qualification they now sit fifth, and have been seeded first for the group stage draw on December 6.
The Premier League's top clubs are now littered with Belgian talent, but can the national side really challenge for world glory next summer?
The Belgians qualified for their first World Cup since 2002 in fine style, dropping just four points in draws with Croatia and Wales, the latter coming after qualification was already secured.
Whilst most punters will be tipping perennial favourites Spain, Germany, Brazil and Argentina, the Belgians seem to be almost everyone’s tip as dark horses.
Their strengths start right from the back, in Thibaut Courtois and Liverpool’s Simon Mignolet; they possess two goalkeepers of the highest calibre, bringing healthy competition in a bid to claim the number one shirt.
Having conceded just four goals in qualifying, their defence is as mean as they come. Premier league stars Jan Vertonghen and Thomas Vermaelen of Tottenham and Arsenal respectively keep things tight, the Belgian back four marshalled by inspirational captain, Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany.
In midfield they boast both brawn and brilliance. The likes of Manchester United’s Marouane Fellaini, supported by Axel Witsel and Mousa Dembele provide a perfect balance of strength and poise. In the wide areas they possess pace and skill, Chelsea’s £34m man Eden Hazard their shining light. His Chelsea counterpart Kevin De Bruyne, Everton’s Kevin Mirallas and new Napoli signing Dries Mertens provide alternative options.
The Belgians also possess two forwards who have tormented Premier League defences over the past season. In Romelu Lukaku and Christian Benteke, they have two strikers with a perfect blend of strength, pace and finishing ability.
Whilst both may be raw, they are a handful for any defence and either can provide the perfect outlet in attack. Aged just 20 and 22 respectively, the duo could potentially be unsettling opposition defences for the next decade.
Whilst no side will look forward to the prospect of facing Belgium in next summer’s finals, it is well worth noting that no European side has ever won a World Cup hosted in South America.
Their form over the last few years has earned them their dark horses tag, and they boast the talent to cause an upset come next summer. The Belgians are only going to improve, their squad is incredibly young and the talent is already of the highest quality.
I feel next summer’s World Cup will come too early for this young, exciting side, although stranger things have happened. The European Championships held in neighbouring France in two years’ time however, could be their time.
The Belgians are coming.
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