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Why Belgium Are the True World Cup Dark Horses in Brazil

Belgium's Eden Hazard listens to the national anthems ahead of their their group A World Cup qualifying soccer match in Zagreb, Friday, Oct. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
Darko Bandic/Associated Press
Sam PilgerFeatured ColumnistMay 26, 2014

Can you call Belgium dark horses to win the World Cup anymore? 

The bookmakers don’t think so and rate them fifth favourites behind hosts Brazil, Argentina, Germany and defending champions Spain.

This puts them ahead of past winners, finalists and bigger sides, including England, France, Italy, Portugal, Holland and Uruguay.

It is no longer any secret they have a talented squad of players, but in truth no one really expects them to win the World Cup in Brazil.

Close your eyes: Can you picture Vincent Kompany holding aloft the World Cup in the Maracana on July 13?

It is not easy is it? But it could still happen, and that is why they remain the tournament’s true dark horses.

Despite this year’s heightened expectations, Belgium have no history or culture of success at the World Cup or major international tournaments.

The furthest they have ever reached at the World Cup is the semi-finals in 1986.

Belgium have failed to qualify for the last two World Cups and also couldn't even manage to make it to the last three European Championships in 2004, 2008 and 2012.

Winning the World Cup this year would certainly rank as the tournament’s biggest ever shock in 84 years. But don’t dismiss it happening.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - AUGUST 14:  Vincent Kompany of Belgium looks on during the International friendly match between Belgium and France at the King Baudouin Stadium on August 14, 2013 in Brussels, Belgium.  (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
David Rogers/Getty Images

Belgium have a squad overflowing with talented individuals who have been moulded in to a successful team by Marc Wilmots.

In qualifying they won eight out of their 10 games and confidence is building.

In goal the Belgians are spoilt for choice between Liverpool’s Simon Mignolet and Atletico Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois, who has just enjoyed the season of his life by winning La Liga.

At the back Belgium are exceptionally strong with Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen and Jan Vertonghen, and this defence helped to keep six clean sheets in qualifying, conceding just four goals, only one more than the world champions Spain.

In midfield they are just as strong with the likes of Alex Witsel, Steven Defour and Marouane Fellaini providing the foundation for the more attacking talents of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne.

At the heart of the attack is Romelu Lukaku, who has completed yet another impressive season in the Premier League, this time with Everton.  

Alastair Grant/Associated Press

Then there is the wild card of Adnan Januzaj, one of the world’s best young players, who has just enjoyed a brilliant first season with Manchester United and declared his allegiance to Belgium.

The depth of Belgium’s squad gives them further cause for optimism with such quality players as Kevin Mirallas, Moussa Dembele and Nacer Chadli ready to come off the bench.

The early draw has also been kind with the modest obstacles of Russia, South Korea and Algeria awaiting them in Group H.

Should they emerge from this group they will likely face Germany or Portugal in the knock-out stage, but if they are to win the World Cup they will have to play the bigger teams, and the group games will provide them with some crucial momentum.

Since qualifying, Belgium’s confidence has been dented by their failure to beat Colombia, Ivory Coast or Japan.

But these were mere friendlies, and when it comes time to perform in Brazil next month Belgium might just cause a surprise.

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