Among the most discussed teams to qualify, Belgium return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years. Featuring a young group stocked with stars, they have the talent to really impress in Brazil. In fact, their exploits in qualifying make them a dark horse candidate to make a deep run.
GROUP H SCHEDULE
WHO GOT THEM THERE
Eden Hazard, M, Chelsea (pictured left): The attacking midfielder is just 22, but he already has experience leading a team (watch highlight reel), as he helped lead Lille to a Ligue 1 title in France, and has been a fixture at Chelsea. He will be carrying the weight of expectation for what is expected to be a potent Belgian attack.
Vincent Kompany, D, Manchester City: With a young team expected to make waves at the World Cup, it will be up to the captain to keep the squad focused on and off the field. Despite his experience winning titles, Kompany has battled injury problems recently, and if he can’t get fully fit for the tournament, Belgium’s defense and attitude will likely take a big hit.
Romelu Lukaku, F, Everton: Belgium have an absolute embarrassment of riches up top, and 20-year-old Lukaku looks to be the latest to tap into his vast potential. The powerful striker will have the motivation to impress Chelsea boss José Mourinho at the World Cup, and could be the breakout player of the tournament.
Marc Wilmots, hired in May 2012 after serving as assistant coach, has vast World Cup experience, having played in three for Belgium during a successful playing career (1994, 1998, 2002).
Though he doesn't have a great deal of coaching experience, the former attacking midfielder has the respect of his team, and Wilmots has been credited with helping the Belgians deal with rising expectations during the qualifying campaign. The next step is to give an impressive showing in Brazil, with expectations soaring once more for the Red Devils.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
WCQ record: 8-0-2, 26 pts. / 18 GF, 4 GA (first place in Europe’s Group A)
Belgium sailed through their qualifying group unbeaten, and impressively beat both Croatia and Serbia on the road. While it can be argued that the Belgians had a favorable group in qualifying, they bucked a generation of poor results, managed to back up the hype with results and qualified for their first major international tournament in 12 years.
WORLD CUP HISTORY
Prior to the recent World Cup drought, Belgium featured in six consecutive tournaments from 1982-2002. Their best showing came in 1986, when the squad finished fourth and budding star Enzo Scifo was named best young player of the tournament. In 2002, the Belgians were knocked out in the round of 16 by eventual champions Brazil.
Belgium beat the US national team 4-2 in Cleveland in May 2013 … Chelsea played in the 2012 MLS All-Star Game in Philadelphia, with Romelu Lukaku starting, Eden Hazard entering the game as a second-half substitute and Kevin De Bruyne on the Blues’ roster for the match … The last Belgian player in MLS was defender Mikael Yourassowsky in 2011 with Toronto FC.