17-June Algeria (5pm GMT Belo Horizonte)
22-June Russia (5pm GMT Rio de Janeiro)
26-June South Korea (9pm GMT Sao Paulo)
Widely regarded as everyone’s favourite pick for the dark horse of the tournament, Terrance Ross wonders whether Belgium can live up to the hype?
Coach: Marc Wilmots
The former midfielder was on the pitch the last time Belgium made the World Cup in 2002, as they bowed out to Brazil despite an impressive performance in the Round of 16. Wilmots scored three goals in that tournament and is widely regarded as a hero to Belgian football fans. He amassed 70 caps during the course of his career and he took the managerial reins of the national team in May 2012, leading Belgium through an impressive qualifying campaign.
Why they could be dangerous
Belgium have been granted a relatively easy group, avoiding all of the potential pitfalls in the World Cup draw. They must be weary of South Korea who often overachieve at the World Cup, but it’s fellow European side Russia that may pose the biggest threat. Belgium should navigate through the group with ease, however a lack of international experience on the biggest stage may rear its head as the players deal with the pressure that comes with the ‘favourites’ tag.
The world on his shoulders: Eden Hazard
The Chelsea winger has leapt to new heights this season, improving almost all facets of his game, especially his scoring form. The 23-year-old is a likely future Ballon d’Or nominee and is pegged to be one of the standout performers at the World Cup this summer. His technique, speed and dribbling ability are all world class and he will be expected to drive this highly regarded Belgian team into the knock-out rounds. Belgium will only go as far as Eden does.
Did you know?
Belgium rose to 5th in the FIFA rankings in October 2013, their highest ever placing. Conversely they started qualification ranked 53rd…
Country legend: Paul Van Himst
Officially named the Golden Player of Belgium by the Belgian Football Association as their most outstanding player of the past 50 years, Paul VanHimst was a dynamic forward who scored over 200 goals for Anderlechtduring his playing days. Van Himst was a technical marvel often enticing crowds with his ability. Elegant, technically proficient and skilful, he was once nicknamed as ‘The White Pele’ during his heyday.
Wilmots will be employing his usual 4-3-3 formation, the success of which hinges on the hard work of his midfield trident – Fellani, Witsel and Dembele. Belgium possesses excellent central defenders, but the full-backs leave a bit to be desired. The Premier League trio of Hazard, Mirallas and Lukaku are expected to take the reins up front, but the injury to striker ChristianBenteke will be a solid blow. However, dynamic in attack, strong at the back and physically imposing, it will take a lot to defeat this Belgian side.
…Algeria P2 W1 D1 L0 F3 A1
…Russia P8 W3 D1 L4 F10 A12
…South Korea P3 W2 D1 L0 F5 A2
Population: 11.5 million
World Cup appearances: 11
Best finish: Fourth Place at Mexico 1986
Famous for: Qualifying for six consecutive World Cups between 1982 and 2002 and their fourth place finish in 1986.
Top Division: Jupiler Pro League
How they got to the World Cup: Topped their European qualifying group without losing a game and keeping six clean sheets in 10 matches.
FIFA World Ranking: 12
Last World Cup Appearance: Japan/South Korea 2002 – Round of 16
Continental Honours: –
Most Capped Player: Jan Ceulemans (96 caps)
Leading International Scorer: Paul Van Himst, Bernard Voorhoof (30 goals)
Nickname: Diables Rouges – The Red Devils