World Cup - Country profile: Belgium

We profile 2014 hopefuls and a talented Belgium squad, who are expected to go deep into the tournament.

Reuters
World Cup - Country profile: Belgium
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Belgium players celebrate Steven Defour's goal against Scotland (Reuters)

Form and Prospects

Belgium are blessed with a wealth of talent, including captain and defensive rock Vincent Kompany, combative Marouane Fellaini and tricky midfielder Eden Hazard, and on paper should be contenders in Brazil.

The country, competing at their first World Cup since 2002, have options or at least one back-up in every position, including two of the Premier League's best young strikers in Christian Benteke and Romelu Lukaku, as well as goalkeepers Thibaut Courtois and Liverpool-based rival Simon Mignolet.

Belgium's rise through FIFA's world ranking has been meteoric, going from a lowly 53 in the world when they started World Cup qualifying to fifth when they booked their ticket to Brazil after an unbeaten campaign.

More seasoned fans will remember the fine Belgian sides of the 1970s and 1980s, including the one featuring Jean-Marie Pfaff, Jan Ceulemans and Enzo Scifo that reached the semi-finals in 1986.

In part the current crop appears so good because the Belgian team has been so bad for the past decade.

Success has come as a group of players now in their early 20s has strengthened a core with plenty of international experience but lacking the ability in the past to regularly finish off weaker opponents. For many in Belgium, a 4-2 defeat of closest rivals the Netherlands in August 2012 was the trigger for a change of mentality and a surge of self-belief.

Detractors would point to Belgium's struggle at times to find the back of the net, including their recent 2-0 loss to Colombia, and a lack of match time in particular for Chelsea's Kevin De Bruyne. Kompany's susceptibility to injury could also harm their prospects.

Coach: Marc Wilmots

A dogged midfielder, dubbed "Kampfschwein" (fighting pig) by adoring fans of German side Schalke 04 with whom he won the UEFA Cup in 1997, Wilmots scored 28 times in 70 appearances for Belgium and appeared at three World Cups.

After retirement the 44-year-old dabbled in politics and also began coaching, although his first role at lowly St Truiden lasted just eight months.

The turnaround occurred in 2009 when Dutchman Dick Advocaat took him on as assistant to the national team, a post he retained under Advocaat's successor Georges Leekens.

Questions were raised when he replaced Leekens in May 2012, but he has managed to infuse the team with spirit and belief, some tactical nous, and formed an ability to successfully adjust his team according to the opponent.

Key player: Eden Hazard

Despite plenty of promise, Belgium have struggled to score in the face of organised defences, but in Chelsea's Hazard they have someone with the skill to dribble through a defensive wall or deliver the last vital pass.

Under former coach Leekens Hazard struggled to replicate the form he displayed at then club side Lille that twice won him French league player of the season, and he made headlines when after being substituted in a home tie against Turkey in 2011, he was spotted eating a hamburger outside the stadium while the match was still in progress.

In Wilmots Hazard has gained a mentor and someone who will put his arm around his star talent to confide and encourage.

Hazard has rewarded the trust placed in him, notably in the home qualifier against a stubborn Macedonia by creating a moment of magic to score the winner.

Wilmots is thought to be considering him for the playmaking number 10 role, more central than his position at Chelsea, but the jury is still out on his value there.

How they qualified

European Group A winners

World Cup record

Previous World Cup appearances: 11 (1930, 1934, 1938, 1954, 1970, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002)

Best performance: Semi-finalists 1986

Odds

16-1

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