Tottenham Hotspur Trio Have 2014 World Cup Point to Prove with Belgium

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Tottenham Hotspur Trio Have 2014 World Cup Point to Prove with Belgium

For Tottenham Hotspur's trio of Belgium internationals, the conclusion of their 2013-14 club commitments was in keeping with a frustrating season.

Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Jan Vertonghen and his fellow Belgians saw the end to their season hit by injuries.

Nacer Chadli (groin and hip), Mousa Dembele (ankle) and Jan Vertonghen (ankle) all missed Tottenham's final game, a 3-0 win over Aston Villa.

Over the preceding couple of months, Chadli at least was able to enjoy his longest run in the team since transferring from FC Twente last summer. There was less to cheer about for Dembele and Vertonghen, each of whom endured struggles with form and fitness.

Though far from a disastrous campaign, its tougher moments will have Spurs' Belgian contingent relieved at the prospect of playing in this summer's World Cup, each having been selected as part of Marc Wilmots' squad.

It is a big tournament for the Red Devils. The aforementioned players are part of a so-called "Golden Generation"—also including the likes of fellow Premier League players Eden Hazard and Vincent Kompany—currently representing the country.

Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Associated Press
Belgium manager Marc Wilmots was clearly pleased with the World Cup squad he was able to select this month.

The notable failure of others who have been associated with such a label—notably Portugal and England in the past 15 years—will serve as a warning to complacency. As too will recent friendly results, losses to Colombia and Japan, and a draw with Ivory Coast—all World Cup-bound teams.

Still, their status as dark horses for the whole competition is not without merit.

Wilmots' team finished top of UEFA qualifying Group A, a comfortable nine points ahead of second-place Croatia. Their actual World Cup Group H is not to be overlooked, but on paper at least, Belgium have the edge on overall talent over Algeria, Russia or South Korea (if not recent tournament experience).

Due to their shared nationality, Chadli, Dembele and Vertonghen have naturally been aligned at Tottenham as part of a little Belgian core—something the club not-so-subtly emphasised with a social media Q&A in January:

However, for neither club nor country is it a group that forms a vital link within the team (something like Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard for AC Milan and Holland in the late 1980s/early 1990s being the golden example). As was the case with Spurs this season, each will be fighting an individual battle to prove himself an important part of the team.

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Vertonghen had a tougher second season with Spurs after a widely praised debut campaign in England.

For Vertonghen in particular, the summer presents an opportunity to reaffirm himself as one of Europe's most highly rated defenders.

A fixture for Belgium throughout the qualifiers and in recent friendlies, his importance to the national team has not been in question. During the same period for Spurs, things have not gone as smoothly.

Voted as a member of the PFA Team of the Year in his first season in England, injuries substantially undermined his second. Media speculation has also been rife about his happiness in north London after the club missed out on Champions League football. A recent report in the Metro suggested he will wait to see the identity of the new Spurs boss before deciding his future.

Whatever his intentions, Vertonghen can put it all on the back burner to focus on football for at least the next month.

Christof Koepsel/Getty Images
Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld (left) are part of a talented Belgium defence, albeit one that will want to improve after some disappointing recent friendly results.

Along with Kompany and Atletico Madrid's La Liga winning pair, Toby Alderweireld and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, the 27-year-old is part of a strong Belgian defence which will be crucial to success in Brazil. If he performs as such, Vertonghen will leave South America firmly in the shop window, or having emboldened himself for an improved year with Spurs.

Chadli and Dembele have less consistently been selected for their national side of late, mostly because of the competition for places in midfield. For the latter, the chance to play at the World Cup must firmly be seized if it comes his way.

Largely dependable since joining Spurs, at his best, Dembele has been a dynamic all-rounder through whom the team's best work came through (or at least by). The feeling he still has a level or two he could go up to has been hard to shake, though, especially in what was a lacklustre few months to begin the year by his standards. Considering all this, it is perhaps not surprising others have edged ahead of him in the pecking order for the Red Devils (though his 55 caps is evidence of the faith that exists in the 26-year-old's ability).

Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Dembele played his part in Belgium qualifying for the World Cup but has found minutes harder to come by over the past year.

Dembele will not find a better stage than the stadiums of Belo Horizonte, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo to truly prove himself. A competitive but winnable group may be the necessary showcase he needs to come out of his shell.

With Hazard, Napoli's Dries Mertens and Everton's Kevin Mirallas to compete with in attacking midfield, Chadli may be facing the least playing time of Tottenham's Belgian boys. Should he be granted permission to cross the white line, however, he will be looking to show himself to be the top-level game-changer he has hinted at in his one year in England so far.

If Wilmots was watching Spurs' Europa League match out in Benfica, he will have seen a two-goal performance from Chadli which almost salvaged the round. The attacker has a physical presence not always common among players of his type, nicely rounding out the more skillful aspects of his game.

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Chadli has represented Belgium 18 times but is still seeking to firmly establish himself in the team. As is the case for him at Tottenham.

Belgium's identity in the final third may be established to a degree, but it should not be so rigid as to discount the alternative of Chadli. Spurs too should keep a keen eye on any possible involvement from their man. With a year's Premier League experience, he could still become an underestimated part of their own attacking direction for the next regime.

It is all a lot of hypothesising at this point in the build-up to a World Cup. What is clear, for a number of reasons, is that Chadli, Dembele and Vertonghen are facing a few big weeks in regards to the directions of their respective careers.

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