Future world champions, perhaps?
Football fans seem to be falling over themselves over the potential and performances of Belgium at the moment. Every debate about international football seems to mention the Belgians, with some people even suspecting they may surprise a few people at the World Cup in Brazil next year. Friday's 2-1 victory over Croatia secured them top spot in qualifying and a place at the World Cup for the first time since 2002, which makes it an apt time to try to discover if Belgium really are a threat to the giants of international football.
First, the rankings. Although often slammed as controversial, they certainly do suggest that the Belgians will be a force to be reckoned with when it comes to Brazil next year. They currently sit sixth, above the likes of England, Portugal and even the Netherlands. Perhaps the best illustration of the rise and rise of Belgium sits within the rankings: Six years ago they were as low as 71st.
The fact that they have breezed through Group A of World Cup Qualifying is another reminder that Belgium could potentially turn a few heads at the World Cup. Group A isn't a group filled with teams that are routinely beaten on a regular basis; the lowest-ranked team in the group are Macedonia, who are 75th.
Put that in comparison with England's group—from which the Three Lions are yet to qualify—which contains Poland (65th), Moldova (123rd) and San Marino (207th). Yet Belgium have won eight of their nine games in Group A, the only dropped points coming in a 1-1 draw against Croatia.
When a team has such an upturn in form like the Diables Rouges have had, there generally has to be a focal point from which the upturn starts. Many people believe that for Belgium, it was the 2008 Summer Olympics. Even though they finished out of the medal places, midfielder Marouane Fellaini told Esquire that it was the beginning of the Belgian revolution:
One thing is we have played together for a long time. A lot of us went to the Olympics in Beijing, stayed together in the village, when we were 18, 19, 20, 21, so we got to know each other very well, and we had a good tournament.
A quick glance through that Olympics squad reveals some very popular names. A 22-year-old Hamburg defender, Vincent Kompany. Thomas Vermaelen, himself only 22 and playing at Ajax. Standard Liege's 20-year-old midfielder, that man Fellaini.
There's more, too.
Kevin Mirallas, Jan Vertonghen, Mousa Dembele. At least seven or eight players that now make up the bulk of the senior side on a regular basis; it seems familiarity does not breed contempt when it comes to Belgium; more success.
That's without even considering the pair of goalkeepers that will marshall the Diables Rouges' defence on the world next year. Liverpool's Simon Mignolet provides experience and talent, but he can't dislodge Thibaut Courtois in the goal. Coirtois has conceded just three goals in nine qualifiers and had a magnificent season for Atletico Madrid last season, too.
And then, there is a pair of strikers that Premier League fans will be all too familiar with. Christian Benteke cost Aston Villa just £4 million when they purchased him from Genk last summer. If he does leave Villa at any point in the future, he'll command a fee significantly larger than that. And if Benteke is a man to be feared, then there are no words to describe his partner in crime: Romelu Lukaku.
How far can Belgium go at the World Cup?
There are thousands of Chelsea fans across the globe scratching their head as to why Lukaku is at Everton for the season, and not strutting his stuff on the Stamford Bridge turf every other weekend. He further cemented his reputation as one of Europe's emerging talents with another pair of goals in the victory that secured qualification for Brazil on Friday night.
Then throw one of Europe's best players in the mix, Eden Hazard. The only reason Hazard, Benteke and Lukaku didn't feature in that defining Olympics campaign of 2008 is because they were 17, 17 and 16 years old respectively. Not only does this Belgium team have cohesion and talent, it has youth on its side too.
So, with everything considered, can Belgium really make an impact on the grandest stage of them all next year? Can they break the dominance that sides like Germany and Spain have had on international football at the World Cup?
In truth, next year may be a fraction too soon. But rest assured, as the years go by and this immensely talented group of young players mature, expect to see a lot more of Belgium.
What do you think? Are Belgium worth the hype? Can they win the World Cup? Leave your comments below.