World Cup dark horses: can Belgium win in Brazil?
A Golden Generation has emerged and the Red Devils are being tipped to make a big impression
Can you name a famous Belgian? After the World Cup the likelihood is that you will be able to name several.
With a squad boasting some of the best young players in Europe and what looks like an easy draw in the group stages, Belgium have been tipped as one of the teams to watch in the later stages of this summer's World Cup in Brazil.
The likes of Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku make the Red Devils a match for anyone and at the time of the draw, in October last year, Belgium were the fifth ranked side in the world after dropping only four points in qualifying.
They have slipped to 12th since then, but after a stellar qualifying tournament and with Man United starlet Adnan Januzaj now in their ranks Belgium will not be daunted by the task at hand.
Players to watch:
Almost too many to mention. They have possibly the best goalkeeper in Europe in Thibaut Courtois of Atletico Madrid, and a decent deputy in Simon Mignolet of Liverpool. At the back are the Man City and Arsenal captains, Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen, plus Toby Alderweireld of Atletico and Spurs's Jan Vertonghen. In midfield there's Eden Hazard of Chelsea, Man Utd starlet Adnan Januzaj and the much-maligned Marouane Fellaini. Up front is Romelu Lukaku. And that's just the tip of the iceberg for coach Marc Wilmots.
Why they could win it:
This exceptionally talented group of players has untold potential and has not been scarred by failure at previous tournaments – partly because their predecessors didn’t qualify. It is also a squad with strength in depth, with the likes of Nacer Chadli and Moussa Dembele ready to come off the bench.
They have plenty of goodwill on their side. Last year Goal.com noted that it had "become cool and hip to like Belgium". Former World Cup winner, Marcel Desailly, has tipped them to reach the final. "When you talk about Belgium, there is a smile on the face," he told Laureus. "I am sure Belgium will perform and will be the surprise of the World Cup."
Were they to win it, it would be the tournament's biggest shock in 84 years, says Sam Pilger of Bleacher Report. "But don't dismiss it happening."
Why they might not:
Belgium undoubtedly have a 'Golden Generation' on their hands. But things do not always go according to plan... as weary England fans can attest.
Despite remaining unbeaten in qualification Belgium have not overcome many heavyweight opponents. Last year they lost to both Colombia and Japan in friendlies and in March drew with Ivory Coast. "To live up to its new-found box-office billing, Belgium's hip must match the hype," warned Goal.com even before those games.
They are also without Cristian Benteke, ruled out through injury, and that puts a lot of pressure on Romelu Lukaku to deliver. If he fails, do Belgium have a Plan B?
How far can they go:
The Red Devils should win a weak group featuring Algeria, Russia and South Korea. Unfortunately they will then have to play one of the teams from Group B, Germany, Portugal, Ghana or the US. Beyond that, they are likely to encounter Argentina or France, but a place in the last four is not out of the question.
What the bookies say:
To make the semi finals - 11/4
To win the tournament - 14/1