Known for producing delicious dark chocolates and the country that gave the world Tintin, Belgium are now on the verge of making the world know them for their football too.
Half a decade ago, they were at a lowly 71st position in FIFA rankings. On July 5, they will take on Argentina in the quarter-finals of the biggest football spectacle on the planet — World Cup 2014.
When one talks of European football giants, the talk is all about Germany, Spain, Italy, Netherlands and France. Belgium have never been counted in that list. They are, however, shaking up the established world order of football. They have served notice with four consecutive wins in Brazil to follow up on the seven successive triumphs in the qualifying stages.
After their exploits in the qualifying stage, experts started touting the Red Devils as the dark horse. In Brazil, they have lived up to their billing.
This rise of the Red Devils can be credited chiefly to Belgian FA director Michael Sablon’s strategy of improving the country’s football structure. His ‘vision’ revolved around harnessing young talent. Centralised coaching schools were set up across the country. It also prescribed adapting a 4-3-3 playing system, similar to that of the Dutch.
A look at the current squad though reveals that nine of the players are from immigrant families. Adnan Januzaj, Romelu Lukaku, Marouane Fellaini, Vincent Kompany, Anthony Vanden Borre, Dembele, Chadli, Origi and Axel Witsel have at least one parent born outside Belgium.
Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has been one of the chief reasons behind Belgium coming this far (Reuters Photo)
Also, most of them ply their trade in the English Premier League. Eden Hazard, Dembele, Romelu Lukaku and Thomas Vermaerlen are assets of their respective clubs.
In terms of combined transfer fees, the Belgian squad is the third most valuable team in the world after Brazil and Portugal. That speaks volumes about the talent of the players.
Coach Marc Wilmots needs to be given due credit for bringing this exciting bunch together and turning them into a lethal team.
It will be interesting to see how Wilmots tackles Argentina
Argentina will be a challenge tougher than any the Red Devils have faced so far. But they have announced their entry on the big scene with a bang and will not be pushovers.