Van Buyten: We have woken up Belgium
Daniel van Buyten has told FIFA that’s Belgium’s resurgence as a footballing force has "awoken the nation", and could lead to them causing an upset at this summer’s World Cup.
The Red Devils have not been involved in a major international tournament for 12 years, but qualified top of Group A -- nine points ahead of second-placed Croatia -- to book their place in Brazil.
With a young, talented squad including the likes of Eden Hazard, Christian Benteke and Thibaut Courtois, the Belgians are considered by a growing number as underdogs for the tournament.
However, Belgium international Van Buyten says that while his side can win their World Cup group and want to spring a surprise, predictions of a semifinal place are a stretch too far.
"Everyone’s saying we could turn out to be the tournament’s surprise package," he said. We’re all highly motivated and would love to cause an upset, but we haven’t been involved for 12 years.
"We can’t just assume we’ll automatically reach the latter stages. We have to give our all, but to say we’ll reach the semifinals would be too ambitious.
Van Buyten, 36, has won the Bundesliga three times with Bayern Munich and lifted the Champions League trophy last season, and believes the number of young Belgians playing abroad has benefited the national side.
"I was part of an exceptional team at Bayern [two years ago], but the national team wasn’t doing so well -- our squad wasn’t as strong as it is now.
"Now, we’ve got a good generation of players, many of whom ply their trade abroad and are playing regularly in international competitions. That’s made us a lot stronger. Now it’s a lot more fun to join up with the national team.
"We’ve suddenly got a good generation of players and the other, older members of the squad have also upped their game.
"The biggest factor is that all the young players are suddenly playing abroad. They all used to play in Belgium. They were still good players, but only as good as the Belgian league."
Belgium face Russia, Algeria and South Korea in their World Cup group, and the Bayern player believes Marc Wilmots’ men can get through to the knockout rounds.
"It’s a winnable group," he continued. "I wouldn’t say it’s particularly difficult or easy, but we’ve got a good chance. We have to prepare for every game like a final, otherwise things can go wrong very quickly.
"We’re never satisfied, and if you’re taking part in the tournament, you automatically want more. The whole of Belgium is thinking about the World Cup.
"The excitement is palpable. If I think back to a couple of years ago, the country lacked a heart and soul. There was hardly any atmosphere in the stadiums -- or anywhere else in the country, for that matter -- when we were playing.
"Now we’ve awoken the entire nation through our football. We’re a small country, but we’ve got a lot of potential. Everyone’s really excited and the fans can relate to us, which wasn’t the case for a very long time."
Belgium continued their preparations for this summer's tournament with a 2-2 draw against the Ivory Coast on Wednesday evening.