Belgium's rise to the top of FIFA World Cup qualifying Group A has sparked excitement across the country, with hopes high that a gifted array of talents may finally be about to build on their promise.
The Red Devils have been billed as potential world-beaters for a number of years now, but after a series of disappointments they grabbed headlines with a sparkling 3-0 victory in Serbia on Friday. That took Belgium level with Croatia atop their qualifying section, and Marc Wilmots' men plan to stay there when they host Scotland on Tuesday.
"Last night we could finally dream about a definitive resurrection," enthused Belgian newspaper Nieuwsblad in the wake of Friday's triumph, the Red Devils having inflicted only a second home defeat on Serbia in 28 qualifying games. Belgium have not graced a major tournament since the 2002 FIFA World Cup, but that could be set to change if their current crop of players continues to shine.
In goal, Club Atlético de Madrid's Thibaut Courtois – on loan from Chelsea FC – is already making a name for himself at just 20 years of age, while the defence boasts three Premier League regulars in Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen and Jan Vertonghen. As for the midfield, the likes of Axel Witsel, Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Moussa Dembélé offer creativity and power, with forwards Nacer Chadli, Kevin Mirallas and Christian Benteke also proving their worth. Wilmots will likewise be able to call upon Marouane Fellaini and Romelu Lukaku when the duo return from injury.
"This is the best Belgium team ever – even better than the generation of Enzo Scifo that finished fourth at the 1986 World Cup," said Croatia coach Igor Štimac after the two teams drew 1-1 in September. That is some commendation, but Scifo himself feels the comparison is fair. "This generation contains more talent than we had – only their mental strength is not at the same level," explained the RAEC Mons ahead of the qualifying campaign.
Adding mental fortitude to the players' undoubted gifts is the challenge now facing Wilmots, and he seems to have started winning that battle since replacing Georges Leekens in the summer. "We are happy but not euphoric," explained the 43-year-old after the win against Serbia, keen to keep his side on their toes. "We haven't done anything yet. The second match [against Scotland] will be very important now. But I saw a very good team today, including the substitutes. It's important to keep our feet on the ground.
"We have excellent players but we have not reached anything yet," continued the former international midfielder, present when Belgium disputed their last major finals ten years ago. "It's time to be in a major tournament again – high time. No more excuses. I've been to enough EUROs and World Cups as a TV commentator now."
Having also travelled to the 1990, 1994 and 1998 World Cups – and still Belgium's all-time record scorer in the tournament – he could be back for real at Brazil 2014.
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