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.
BELGIUM: Group H team profile
BELGIUM: Group H team profile
1/5 How they qualified
Perhaps the most interesting team in this year’s World Cup, Belgium qualified in dominating fashion as they laid a national record of seven straight qualifying wins whilst remaining undefeated. The only shortcomings were two meagre draws against Croatia and Wales but Serbia, Scotland and FYROM could not stop them. Eventually, Belgium finished nine points ahead of second place. Their powerful and disciplined displays led to the team scoring 18 goals and conceding only four in the entire round which resulted in eight wins out of ten matches. The lion share of their success is due to the fact that the team is a very physically imposing side that cannot be outperformed when it comes to strength.
Marc Wilmots got a group of very talented players on the same page and showed them how to get the best out of any other side through a patient, defensive and disciplined manner. He is fortunate enough to have a number of attacking players on his disposal that could come handy at any given moment.
3/5 Star Player
Talent is flowing through the Belgium national squad but it is Eden Hazard that has proven that his presence in the front line is key. The 23-year-old is an incredible technician with explosive pace as well as fantastic passing and dribbling skills. This season, he proved to be Chelsea’s main playmaker by becoming the Blues’ top scorer with 14 goals and seven assists. He will be an invaluable member for his team in Brazil.
4/5 Emerging Talent
Adnan Januzaj is the most promising young talent at Manchester United and much is expected from him and his country this summer at Brazil. The 19-year-old had a very impressive season with the Red Devils, picking up four goals and three assists in 27 matches.
5/5 How they line up: (4-2-3-1)
Courtois; Vertonghen, Kompany, Van Buyten, Alderweireld; Fellaini, Witsel; Mirallas, De Bruyne, Hazard; Lukaku.
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.