2018 FIFA World Cup contenders – Belgium

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Belgium national team have been among the regulars at the World Cup. They played in the inaugural tournament in 1930 in Uruguay – losing both their games, against the United States and Paraguay. However, their best ever showing at the prestigious tournament came at the 1986 edition in Argentina. The Red Devils went on to reach the semi-finals, but their bid to reach the summit clash came unstuck in the last four as a brace from Diego Maradona in the semi-final put them out of the competition. For the bronze medal, they were up against France, but lost in extra time after a putting up a strong fight against Les Bleus.

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In the recent past, the Belgians looked a good side at the 2002 World Cup under the captaincy of current first team manager, Marc Wilmots. However, they lost to eventual champions Brazil 2-0 in the round of 16 in a closely-fought encounter.

The Red Devils missed out on the subsequent two World Cups, but qualified for last summer’s edition in the spiritual home of the beautiful game, Brazil.

Belgium were considered to be the dark horses of the 2014 World Cup by many of the prominent football pundits, as they were blessed with some of the most talented footballers their squad had seen in a long time. They were led by Manchester City defender Vincent Kompany and he had some exceptional defensive company in then Bayern Munich’s Daniel van Buyten, currently Tottenham Hotspur’s Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen as well as Barcelona centre-back Thomas Vermaelen. In goal they had Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois as the number 1, while Liverpool’s Simon Mignolet deputised him.

The midfield of the Belgians was also stacked with the likes of Nacer Chadli, Steven Defour, Moussa Dembele, Marouane Fellaini Axel Witsel Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard to call upon. While goalscoring duties were entrusted upon Adnan Januzaj, Romelu Lukaku, Dries Mertens and Divock Origi. Christian Benteke would have been the first-choice centre-forward, but he missed the tournament due to injury.

Although the potential of the team was never in question, most viewers were sceptical of the big game experience of the squad, especially with the national team. And it certainly proved to be the case as the Belgians came up short against the Argentines at the quarter-final stage.

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Wilmots’ men have done well since last summer’s tournament and have comfortably qualified for the European Championship due to be held in France next summer. The stint in France will mean that they will have extensive big-match experience under their belts and will look to better their result from Brazil when Russia comes along in 2018.

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The World Cup in Russia is still some time away and the intervening period will ensure that the Belgians will have become stronger, having played many more matches together. The best part of their squad is that most of their players will still be at the peak of their powers in three years’ time, ensuring a core of exceptionally talented players.

A lot can be expected from the Belgian Red Devils in Russia and they will surely be among the strongest teams in 2018.