Belgium: a dark horse for FIFA World Cup 2014?

Chelsea will again rely on the creativity of Eden Hazard and Oscar.
Not since the days of Eric Gerets, Enzo Scifo and Luc Nilis under the leadership of Guy Thys has the Belgium national team boasted a side with this much promise.
Belgium had a golden period in the 1980s, which began with a second place finish in Euro 1980, followed by a semi-final appearance at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

From there the Belgians qualified for every major tournament up until the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, where they qualified for the round of 16.
Between then and now has marked a relatively dark period for the Les Diables Rouges, who fell off the international football map, failing to qualify for the 2006 World Cup for the first time since 1978.
Almost a decade later we’re now seeing a new surge of Belgian talent sweeping Europe and a national team that is very much a dark horse for the 2014 World Cup.
Coach Mark Wilmots must be credited for putting together a side that boasts a number of young stars and developing them into a team capable of some serious damage.
Young stars such as Thibaut Courtois, Romelu Lukaku and Christian Benteke, as well as established players including Vincent Kompany, Eden Hazard and Daniel van Buyten, form a team that looks strong at the back and equally potent up front.
And it is in England especially that much of the Belgian side are applying their trade and establishing themselves as genuine stars.
12 of the current squad are contracted to teams in the English Premier League, all of which, with the exception of Christian Benteke at Aston Villa, occupy spots at the very top of the table.
The most frightening aspect of this team is its age.
Just five of Wilmots’ squad is over the age of 26, with the average age of the current squad a mere 24 years.
The side also possesses great depth. In goal Wilmots’ has the luxury of choosing between Athletico Madrid’s promising Thibaut Courtois or the consistent hands of Liverpool’s Simon Mignolet.
Courtois’ performances in his three seasons at Athletico have been exceptional. Last season the young talent conceded just 30 goals in 37 games for the Spanish side and was awarded the Ricardo Zamora trophy for the goalkeeper in the Spanish Primera division who has the smallest goals conceded per game ratio.
Mignolet has been equally impressive for Liverpool since his summer transfer from Sunderland and his performances have been a major contributor to Liverpool’s current position in the table.
At the back the Belgians also look strong, with established Premier League defenders Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany, Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen and Arsenal’s Thomas Vermaelen, as well as the experienced head of 36-year-old Bayern Munich defender Daniel van Buyten.
In the midfield the Belgians’ depth continues with more established Premier League players in Mousa Dembele, Marouane Fellaini, Eden Hazard, Nacer Chadli, and Kevin De Bruyne, as well as Porto’s Steven Defour and Zenit’s Axel Witsel.
Up front is where Belgium look really deadly. Mark Wilmots’ side possess two of the deadliest strikers in the Premier League in Romelu Lukaku and Christian Benteke.
Last season, on loan from Chelsea at West Bromwich Albion, Lukaku racked up 17 goals, the sixth highest in the league and more than any of the strikers he left behind at Chelsea.
And now on a new loan spell with Everton, Lukaku has continued to impress, leaving many questioning why on Earth Chelsea boss José Mourinho sent him out on loan yet again.
Benteke has proven he is also prolific. The big forward attracted interest from European giants Inter Milan and Tottenham Hotspur after netting 23 goals last season for Aston Villa.
Belgium’s qualifying campaign for next year’s World Cup in Brazil was nothing short of impressive. The side came through the campaign unbeaten, netting 18 goals and only conceding four.
Along the way Wilmots’ team dispatched the likes of Croatia and Serbia comfortably and only really slipped up with a draw at home to an improving Wales side.
Many argue Belgium’s qualifying group was relatively easy, however when we compare Belgium to the performances of Portugal, who also had a relatively straightforward qualifying group, we can see Belgium’s qualification was a job very well done.
A surprising fact is the success of the Belgian national team has come without any considerable rise in the Belgian Pro League.
The league has struggled over the years to establish itself as a top league among Europe’s big leagues and only boasts Anderlecht among this year’s Champions League competition.
Aside from Anderlecht’s UEFA Cup victory in 1983, Belgian clubs have had little success on the European stage, however smaller teams such as F.C. Genk, Standard Liege and Club Brugge K.V. have also represented Belgium in the Champions League and Europa League but have failed to have any serious impact.
A reality of the Belgium squad is the majority of the players have been developed outside of Belgium.
Despite the minority of its national league, the Belgium national team looks a real force heading to Brazil in 2014.
With a strong blend of pace, power and experience and some real superstars among its roster, don’t rule out the boys nicknamed the Red Devils to be there or thereabouts come crunch time.