Belgium vs Algeria match preview: The wait is over for tournament's dark horses
It's time to deliver for Marc Wilmots and Belgium's golden generation
Tuesday 17 June 2014
After all the waiting, and all the wonder about how good Belgium are, the world will finally get to properly see. A genuinely talented generation of players will have their first experience of a tournament, the country will participate in Fifa’s main event for the first time since 2002.
In fact, this fixture against Algeria falls on the exact anniversary of their second-round elimination to Brazil in Japan 12 years ago.
Manager Marc Wilmots actually played in that game, but also provokes one of the deepest questions about whether this current squad can go further.
There remains some suspicion about the 45-year-old’s leadership, and a feeling that he is perhaps not maximising the team’s ability in the way he might. Similarly, it’s a little difficult to know how to read recent form, given that the majority of their best results haven’t exactly been against behemoths.
It all adds to an odd mood of uncertainty about them, which feeds into the backlash that every supposed dark horse faces in the build-up. After months in which they are so heavily backed, a backlash is inevitable.
The irony is that, in terms of individual players, Belgium are probably better known to British audiences than any other team. They have 12 Premier League players in their squad, which is more than any other World Cup qualifier except England.
The only problem is that some of the most prominent of those players only add to the questions. Eden Hazard is the prime example, almost suffering from the same issue a young Lionel Messi did in international football. As brilliant as he’s been for Chelsea, one lasting debate has been that he’s never performed to the same level for Belgium.
This would be as fine a stage as any to dismiss that. There shouldn’t be too much dismissal of Algeria either. Bosnian coach Vahid Halilhodzic has fashioned a progressive side, who may surprise people.
Belgium will hope to live up to expectations. Today we’ll see how fair they were.
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