Belgium: Reasons to BelieveBy: Juan Mesa
HOW DID THEY GET HERE: The Red Devils are back on the main stage thanks to a new generation of players led by coach Marc Wilmots. Belgium was praised in Europe after topping Group A in the qualifier with 26 points (8 wins and 2 draws). The feat has more merit considering it included away games in Croatia and Serbia.
BIGGEST STRENGTH: The squad has world-class talent. Belgium has a top player in every line, from goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to forward Romelu Lukaku. However, winger Eden Hazard stands above the rest. The Chelsea player offers magic and leadership as he orchestrates Belgium offense. Even in a bad game, Hazard finds the path to the net. Trust us on this one: he is set to be one of the biggest stars in soccer for the next 10 years.
BIGGEST WEAKNESS: There are no doubts about Belgium capabilities, but it is also an inexperienced team at this level of competition. The Belgians were absent in the past two World Cups, and failed to qualify to UEFA’s Euro 2012. It is also a squad without depth, which gives Coach Wilmots problems when looking for alternatives on the bench.
WORLD CUP CHANCES: Belgium has everything on its side to win Group H. First game against Algeria should bring the first three points and give them the confidence to beat Russia and South Korea in the next two matches. They also have a favorable path in the next stages bracket, although to reach semifinals Belgium has to upset favorite Argentina. That potential game is the big test for the Reds.
FUN FACT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Belgian goalkeepers are as good as the country’s beer and fries. It is not a coincidence Belgium’s best performances in the World Cup are when the goal is well protected. In 1986, Jean-Marie Pfaff was beaten by Diego Maradona’s Argentina in semifinals, and in 1990 and in 1994 Michel Preud’homme helped the team to reach the Round of 16. In Brazil, Belgium has Courtois, considered by many the best keeper in the world right now after a fantastic season with Atlético de Madrid.
IF THEY WERE A SONG, IT WOULD BE: “Team” by Lorde.