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Early Argentina, Dutch survive

Five Aside Jul 5, 2014
Read
 Posted by Wim van Walle
Jun 9, 2014

Belgium's World Cup predictions

After four years of waiting, the time has come. Another World Cup is here, and our bloggers across all 32 competing countries have each predicted the fate that awaits their team. The country's Outlook gives a general view of its situation ahead of the tournament, while Pitfalls takes a look at any potential problems. Each blogger will also predict the top scorer and breakout star and suggest how far that nation can go.

OUTLOOK

Going into their first major tournament since the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, Belgium look in fine form. They stormed through qualifying, winning all but two games and conceding only four goals. After qualification, the squad obviously relaxed and there were some less flattering results in friendlies against Columbia, Japan and Ivory Coast, but Belgium have picked up again with good wins over Luxemburg (5-1), Sweden (2-0) and Tunisia (1-0). The fans in Belgium certainly are ready, with an unseen Red Devils mania sweeping over the country.

PITFALLS

Belgium's much-lauded strength in depth is something Marc Wilmots will have to manage with care. There are bound to be some big names on the bench. Outside of the injury to striker Christian Benteke, so far the only false note has been a spat between the goalkeepers after Simon Mignolet said that his performances at Liverpool might see him dislodge Chelsea loanee Thibaut Courtois as first choice for Belgium. Courtois retorted that Mignolet lacked respect and should be more humble. Wilmots managed to diffuse that situation, but it shows that, even in a team with such apparent harmony, frustrations may lurk beneath the surface.

STAR SCORER

Romelu Lukaku looks set to become Belgium's top scorer, despite not managing to make an impact on the Chelsea first team since he arrived in 2011. Some Belgian fans do not rate Lukaku for this season and were skeptical when it transpired he would lead the attack after Benteke was ruled out. But Wilmots has called on Lukaku before: The striker delivered with two qualifying goals in Croatia to effectively get Belgium to Brazil. So far, counting the FIFA-axed Luxemburg friendly, Lukaku has started seven games for Belgium, in which he has scored six goals. Gary Lineker's assessment that Lukaku could win the Golden Boot is not as outrageous as some might think, although he will have to recover well from the ankle injury he recently sustained.

Belgium's collection of star talent is impressive.

WILD CARD

While the biggest names in the Belgian squad will get most of the attention, a vital contribution may well come from Axel Witsel. Playing in Russia, Witsel is not as well-known as Thibaut Courtois or Vincent Kompany, despite the fact that he cost 40 million euros when he moved to Zenit with Hulk. He won't dazzle like Eden Hazard, or score goals like Lukaku, but his importance is immense. Like the great Claude Makelele, you hardly notice him when he plays, due to his role. However, it's when he doesn't play that you see the difference. Possibly one of the finest defensive midfielders in the world, Witsel reads a game like a book and has impeccable passing skills to switch from defence to attack.

PREDICTION: Semifinals

It is hard to predict a World Cup. Everybody but Jose Mourinho seems to agree that Belgium should come out on top of their group. Most likely, whether they come first or second, they will play Portugal or Germany in the second round. From there, it is anyone's guess. Experience will be a big factor, which is against Belgium, but in terms of sheer class and ability, no one is certain to beat them. There is an incredible force of will in the team, so if they play as well as they can, the semis aren't impossible. From there, who knows?

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