Why Belgium Have a Genuine Shot of Winning the 2014 World Cup
There is a famously cruel jibe that it has always been difficult to name any famous Belgians.
But by the end of the World Cup finals in Brazil next year, there could be a whole squad of them.
It might seem fanciful. It might even seem absurdly rash to even suggest it. But Belgium do have a shot at winning the World Cup.
Belgium? Really? They weren’t even at the last two World Cups in 2006 and 2010, or last year’s European Championships.
They are, of course, outsiders, ranked by the bookmakers as eighth favourites to win the tournament behind hosts Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Germany, Holland, Italy and England.
But they do have a genuine chance: Just look at the immense quality of their current squad.
At the start of last season The Guardian reported how the Belgian newspaper La Dernière Heure had calculated that when you added up all the transfer fees of the current Belgian squad, they were worth €180 million, the third-most expensive national team in the world behind only Brazil and Portugal.
At the moment they sit on top of their qualifying group and so expect to travel to Brazil next year with the most talented group of players they have probably had in their entire history.
So far their qualifying success has been built on their exceptionally strong defence, which has conceded just one goal in six qualifiers.
The Belgian defence is marshaled by such supreme talents as Manchester City dominant captain Vincent Kompany, Arsenal’s Thomas Vermaelen and Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen, who was a revelation in his first season in England and earned a place in the PFA’s Premier League Team of the Season last month.
The remarkable quality of talent does not abate as you move further up the pitch.
Next to him is Axel Witsel, who joined Zenit St.Petersburg for £32.5 million from Benfica last September, and while he hasn’t quite lived up to that transfer fee in Russia so far, he is still only 24 and his strength and ability to surge forward means he will become a fine player.
Then there is a certain Eden Hazard, who made a major impact at Chelsea last season tucked in behind the strikers and ghosting through from midfield.
You can imagine him enjoying playing on a World Cup stage.
And just to emphasise Belgium’s strength in depth in midfield, they can also boast Tottenham’s £15-million man Mousa Dembele and Everton’s lively Kevin Mirallas.
Up front, Belgium are similarly spoilt with Christian Benteke, who proved such a force with Aston Villa in the Premier League last season, and Romelu Lukaku, another of Chelsea’s Belgian contingent who spent last season on loan at West Brom.
Together the pair scored 36 goals in English football last season.
A European side has never won the World Cup in South America, so for Belgium to do it for the first time in their history will be very difficult, but with this squad they do have an outside chance.
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