2014 World Cup: Belgium Will Be the Dark Horse of Brazil

Ryan Bailey@ryanjaybaileyFeatured ColumnistJune 11, 2013

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Chocolates. Waffles. European parliament. Fictional detectives.

Belgium is known for a lot of things, but not traditionally a strong national football team.

The Diables Rouges ("Red Devils") have never been a contender among the European nations. They have only qualified for one of the last seven European Championships. They failed to reach the last two World Cup Finals and have only progressed further than the Round of 16 once.

At next summer's World Cup, however, the Belgians are likely to be an underdog that will surprise and shock with their progress.

In the past few years, Belgium have changed immensely. Between March, 2009, and September, 2010, they lost 11 of their 16 matches. Their only competitive victory was a World Cup qualifier over Turkey, which also failed to reach the tournament in South Africa.

Since the departure of unsuccessful managers Franky Vercauteren and Dick Advocaat, this Belgium squad has become a prominent force in Europe. They have won all five of their games in 2013, including a hard-fought World Cup qualifier against Serbia last week. The victory leaves them at the top spot, three points ahead of Croatia, of UEFA Group A with three games remaining.

Their last competitive loss was back in October 2011, when they were defeated away from home by Germany in a Euro 2012 qualifier.

Belgium are now guaranteed to progress from their World Cup qualifying group, and few would doubt their ability to earn an automatic spot at next summer's tournament by winning the group. 

As any Premier League fan will already know, the secret to Belgium's recent success is an overwhelming array of talent across the pitch.

At the back, they boast the captains of Arsenal and Manchester City, Thomas Vermaelen and Vincent Kompany. Also among the centre-back artillery is Bayern Munich's Daniel Van Buyten, while Jan Vertonghen—easily one of Tottenham's best players last season—has been filling in at left-back.

With options like these in the back four, it's no surprise that Belgium have conceded only two goals in World Cup qualifying.

The midfield is another embarrassment of Premier League riches, with a trio of world-class Chelsea stars: the gifted up-and-comer Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, and his younger brother Thorgan, who had another superb season on loan at Zulte Waregem.

Joining this this tour de force in the middle of the park is the power of Mousa Dembele and Marouane Fellaini. Along with the technical ability of Zenit's Axel Witsel, Belgium have one of the most feared midfields in international football.

In front of these stars, Belgium can also boast Christian Benteke, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin Mirallas. Lukaku and Benteke alone managed 36 Premier League goals last season. One can only imagine how fruitful their contributions may be in Brazil.

Belgium currently have an ideal blend of youth and experience in their squad, and manager Marc Wilmots provides stability. Although only in charge of the first team for a little over a year, Wilmots was assistant manager from 2009 to 2012 and has been in the international set-up since 1986 when he joined the U19 side as a player.

If there is one man who knows these players and how to get the best out of them, it is Wilmots.

The World Cup Finals in Brazil kick off in exactly one year from Wednesday. Currently, bookmakers rate Belgium as the eighth-favorite team to lift the trophy (via betting-directory.com), behind the likes of England, Italy and Holland.

Suggesting that Belgium might go all the way might be a step too far—particularly at a South American tournament where local teams traditionally prevail—but don't be too surprised if the Diables Rouges end up outperforming their European counterparts.


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