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The Red Devils are seen as the European squad with the most momentum entering the 2014 cup in Brazil
June 1, 20145:00AM ET
Players to watch
Belgium arrives at its 12th World Cup with a squad that’s the envy of Europe, all but three of its players based abroad in more competitive leagues. If he’s on his game, though, attacking midfielder Eden Hazard will dazzle the World Cup — as he did on occasion for Chelsea in the league. His dribbling, trickery and speed of thought will make the 23-year-old a prime source of goals and assists and possibly one of the memorable stars of Brazil 2014, although he could have some youthful competition in his own squad from 19-year-old Manchester United winger Adnan Januzaj and 22-year-old Kevin De Bruyne.
Spearheading the attack will be another face familiar to English Premier League devotees — Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku, who spent last season on loan at Everton. Captain and Manchester City center-back Vincent Kompany could prove to be one of the tournament’s best defenders.
Belgium was the surprise team at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, going all the way to the semifinals before being eliminated by Diego Maradona’s Argentina, which went on to win the cup. But the highlight of that campaign came in the round of 16, when Belgium faced the highly fancied Soviet Union and came out the 4–3 winner after extra time.
Belgium is the European team with the most momentum going into the tournament, its outrageously talented new generation undefeated in a competitive fixture over the past two years, having won eight and drawn two of their qualifying matches. They’re young and hungry and could cause many surprises — although if the bracket proceeds according to form, they’d have to get past Portugal and Argentina to repeat the semifinal achievement of 1986.
They play on some of Europe’s best teams, but they have little tournament experience and coach Marc Wilmots has a bigger reputation as a player than as a coach. As talented as they are, the Belgians will win their group, then fall to Portugal in the round of 16.
Did you know?
Belgium as a country remains deeply divided between its Flemish north, comprising some 6.5 million people, and the 4.5 million French-speaking Walloons of the south. There are more Flemish players than Walloons among the Red Devils going to Brazil, but the majority of the squad hails from neither of Belgium’s long-feuding communities — they are immigrants or children of immigrants, mostly from Africa.